Before we begin, I want to state that there is no actual disorder called Postpartum Psychosis, at least according to the DSM which is the manual used for diagnosing mental health disorder. The true name is Brief Psychotic Disorder with Postpartum Onset. For ease of typing and due to popularity, however, I will also use the term postpartum psychosis.
Postpartum psychosis typically occurs within the first two weeks (or up to 3 months) after childbirth and effects 1 out of 1000 new moms. Women with Bipolar Disorder or Schizoaffective Disorder are at higher risk than the general population for experiencing postpartum psychosis. For some, postpartum depression can turn into postpartum psychosis, and for others there are no warning signs and it seems to come out of nowhere. Some of the possible symptoms include paranoia, hallucinations, thoughts or actually acting to harm the baby, rapid mood swings, depression, insomnia, delusions, and suicidal ideation or attempts. Many times the woman’s hallucinations involve instructions to harm the baby. In general, they lose touch with reality.
Part of the trouble with postpartum psychosis is that due to the nature of the disorder, many women do not realize that there is something wrong on their own. Many people who are experiencing hallucinations, delusions, or are paranoid truly believe that what they are experiencing is real and their concerns are valid. Those who do realize that there is something wrong, are afraid to get help for fear that they will have their baby taken away. Therefore it is very important for others to look for signs and encourage mothers that are experiencing these symptoms to get the help they need. It is a very serious disorder which can end terribly without help.
Outcomes are typically good when a woman seeks psychiatric help. She may need to be hospitalized until she is stabilized and then will most likely remain on antipsychotic for some time after. With the help of the medication and other treatment, many women do not have any more symptoms. There is an increased risk for experiencing postpartum psychosis with subsequent births, however, and many women choose not to risk another episode.