Postpartum psychosis requires prompt medical attention

Giving birth can be a trying time for mothers, but in a few cases, women can develop a rare but serious condition called postpartum psychosis. This can start as soon as 48 hours after delivery, but in most cases, symptoms appear within the first two weeks after birth.

The earliest signs and symptoms of postpartum psychosis are insomnia, irritability and restlessness. The condition is characterized by rapidly shifting episodes of manic or elated moods, followed by lethargy and depression. Disorientation, erratic behavior, delusions and hallucinations are common. There is also some risk of suicide or infanticide. Women with bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, or schizophrenia have an increased risk of postpartum psychosis.

For this and other postpartum conditions, it's important to get treatment as soon as possible. The Office on Women's Health recommends a doctor or health care provider be contacted if:

  • Postpartum blues don't go away after two weeks
  • Symptoms of postpartum depression get stronger
  • It's hard for the mother to perform tasks at work or at home
  • The mother cannot care for herself or her baby
  • The mother has thoughts of harming herself or her baby
  • The mother has thoughts that are not based in reality, or starts hearing or seeing things that other people cannot

Sources: Friedman, S. "Postpartum Mood Disorders: Genetic Progress and Treatment Paradigms." American Journal of Psychiatry. 166:1201-1204, November 2009, doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2009.09081185. Massachusetts General Hospital. Postpartum Psychiatric Disorders National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) The National Women's Health Information Center, a service of the Office on Women's Health of the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services. Spinelli, M. "Postpartum Psychosis: Detection of Risk and Management." American Journal of Psychiatry. 166:405-408, April 2009, doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2008.08121899

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 16 Feb 2011

Last Modified: 17 Feb 2015