BENGALURU: Pregnancy can be a time of intense emotions and if during this period of physical and psychological changes, an expecting mom displays emotions like irritation, is prone to tears, suffers insomnia and body pain, she needs to be checked for depression or else her symptoms may turn into a condition called, ‘Postpartum Psychosis,’ a severe mental illness that can affect her even after delivery. The condition can also put both mother and child at risk.
This condition may cause hallucinations and delusional thinking.
Dr Jayashree Murthy, consultant gynecologist, Motherhood Hospital, says, “It is important to read the symptoms of this condition.”
Most women with postpartum psychosis will experience a ‘psychotic episode’ and other symptoms very soon after giving birth, usually within the first two weeks. Some women develop symptoms later than this or around the time they stop breastfeeding, or when their periods restart, she adds.
This condition leads people to perceive or interpret things differently from those around them. Symptoms like hearing or seeing things that aren’t there, thoughts or beliefs that are unlikely to be true need to be carefully observed, say experts.
In certain cases, women with postpartum psychosis may also behave in a way that is out of character. They may talk and think too quickly, suffer a loss of inhibitions, and paranoia. They may feel suspicious, fearful, restless, agitated or show signs of depression and withdrawl. There may be a lack of energy and loss of appetite too.
Dr Prakash Mehta, HOD, maternal and fetal medicine, Bhagwan Mahaveer Jain Hospital, says, “Postpartum psychosis is a serious mental illness that should be treated as a medical emergency.If not treated immediately, it can get worse rapidly. The illness can cause a mother to neglect or harm her baby or harm herself. The condition can also result in suicide.”
Doctors feel that in nuclear families, caring for a new mother and her baby has become a challenge.
New mothers may not realise that they are ill, and it may be up to their partner, family or friends to spot the warning signs and take action. Postpartum psychosis is more likely to affect women who have had postpartum psychosis before, already have a serious mental health condition, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia or have a relative who has experienced psychosis (even if the woman herself has no mental illness). Once a woman develops postpartum psychosis, there are chances that she will have another episode in future pregnancies.
Once diagnosed for psychosis, the mother needs to be admitted to hospital for treatment. Ideally, she should be admitted with her baby to a specialist psychiatric unit. For some women, this allows them to continue bonding with their baby and gives them confidence in their new role.
Apart from this, antidepressants which work by balancing mood-altering chemicals in the brain can help ease symptoms.
Doctors say that such a condition can be prevented.
The gynecologists should assess a woman’s risk of developing postpartum psychosis during appointments. This can help in drawing a treatment plan.
Then there may be a pre-birth planning meeting at around 32 weeks of pregnancy and family members and friends attending can also bring lot of support.
Identifying and reducing any stress and getting as much sleep as possible will help too.
How to support a new mother
- The partner must stay calm and supportive
- Give his spouse confidence
- Keep the home environment calm
- Take the time to listen to her
- Help with housework
- Help with child care and night time feeds
- Involve other family members to shop and do household chores