Can Postpartum Psychosis Be Prevented?

July 10, 2012

Can postpartum psychosis be prevented?  This is a tough question but one that I think needs to be addressed.  I, personally, have seen that postpartum psychosis can be prevented.

As a Volunteer Coordinator with Postpartum Support International, I provided emotional and informational support to many moms experiencing mental illness related to childbearing.  I recall, one mom, who was high risk for experiencing postpartum psychosis since she experienced postpartum psychosis with her first birth.  Mothers, who have experienced postpartum psychosis with previous births or have a history of bipolar disorder are most at risk.  The mom, who I gave support to, went on to have a successful second pregnancy and postpartum period without any incidence of postpartum psychosis or depression.  She worked closely with her doctor and support team in preventing a recurrence.

Another mother I gave support to began exhibiting early warning signs of postpartum psychosis a few days after the birth of her first child but with early intervention, there was no progression of postpartum psychosis.  The key for her was that I knew her personally.  She was aware of the possibility of experiencing problems so she contacted me as soon as she exhibited symptoms.  Her family and I got her the help she needed before the symptoms escalated.  She went on to have a second child without any problems.

I, personally, have seen that postpartum psychosis can be prevented and with early intervention can be stopped.  But what does the research indicate?

According to an article published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, a study of the prevention of postpartum psychosis and mania in women at high risk, concluded that it is recommended that appropriate preventative medication be initiated immediately postpartum in women with a history of psychosis limited to the postpartum period in order to prevent postpartum psychosis.  In addition, the study concluded that patients with bipolar disorder require continuous preventative medication throughout pregnancy and the postpartum period to reduce late pregnancy or the first few months postpartum relapse risk.

The bottom line in prevention is that women, who are at high risk of experiencing postpartum psychosis, should work very closely with a medical professional, properly trained in the area of mental health related to childbearing, during their pregnancy and postpartum period.  Having a plan in place for receiving emotional and practical support during pregnancy and the postpartum period is also highly recommended.

Despite having everything in place, a woman can still experience postpartum psychosis.  The risk can be greatly reduced but not always prevented.  Early intervention is critical in the onset of postpartum psychosis.  The more we talk about the illness and recognize that it can be properly treated, the more it will be prevented.

In my case, I was never blessed to have another child but if I would have, I would have been better equipped because I never knew that postpartum psychosis even existed when my son was born.  There is now better awareness of postpartum psychosis but still there is ignorance and misunderstanding of the illness that needs to be overcome.

Sources and additional information:

Subsequent Pregnancy in Women with a History of Postpartum Psychosis

The Prevention of Postpartum Psychosis and Mania in Women at High Risk

Postpartum Support International

An Illness That Can Attack Mothers

The Symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis

APP Network: Action Postpartum Psychosis