What is puerperal psychosis?
Puerperal psychosis is a rare and serious psychiatric disorder, that affects 1 mother for every 1,000 births. It’s not a neurosis; the person suffering isn’t aware of it. It’s a psychosis with an emotional and psychological collapse accompanied by a state of delirium and extreme agitation. Likewise, it’s therefore usually the spouse and close family who become aware of this state 😥.
You can be affected by this form of psychosis without any previous psychiatric history. Generally, it’s triggered between 1 and 2 weeks after the birth of the child.
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What causes this psychosis❓
According to psychiatrist Wissam El Hage, a specialist in post-traumatic stress disorder, there’s no apparent cause and no particular elements to anticipate puerperal psychosis. Childbirth provokes a trauma and a great emotional shock
that can lead to this disorder. However, there may be risk factors, such as a traumatic birth, a complicated pregnancy, or being a single mother.
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What are the signs of puerperal psychosis?
When you suffer from puerperal psychosis, you can’t spot the signs of the disorder yourself. Those around you need to be alert, particularly if there are any thymic disorders, i.e. mood-related disorders. There may be symptoms of depression, but also episodes of intense joy called “hypomanias”, which are characteristic of bipolar disorder.
👉 Those around you may also spot other symptoms, such as:
- Disturbed sleep with insomnia,
- Confusion about time and place,
- Panic attacks and agitation,
- Negative feelings such as incapacity, guilt, shame, etc,
- Paranoia with a fear of being killed,
- Auditory and visual hallucinations,
- Oscillation between lucidity and delusions,
- Significant memory loss,
- Incoherent statements about the child: the mother may just as well be afraid of the child dying or see him as immortal and a savior.
These signs can be found in 70% of cases of puerperal psychosis. You should bear in mind that not all mothers are affected by all the aforementioned symptoms or in the same way.
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To be distinguished from postpartum depression ⚠️
Although there are signs of depression in both cases, postpartum depression is a state of intense sadness with a lack of interest in everything. The mother is aware of this state, unlike puerperal psychosis. The latter is really characterized by a disconnection from reality.
Diagnosis and treatment of puerperal psychosis
It’s very important for those close to a woman who’s just given birth to be aware of the signs described above, without fearing the disorder. However, the sooner the disorder is identified, the sooner the person can be treated.
“In my delirium, I relived my birth, the expulsion, the bottleneck that’s the mother, the pain and then the awakening of the senses... Now, when I think about it, I tell myself that it was the symbol of my second birth: as a mother. I left the hospital still on medication. I was still very anxious. I was asking myself lots of questions about what had happened to me, what I was taking, about my son’s development... So I did some research at the library and on the internet. Unfortunately, I didn’t find much on puerperal psychosis. It’s pretty badly described compared to what you can experience inside. All that’s said is that there’s a high risk of suicide or infanticide, and there are things to warn of the seriousness of it, but no explanation of how or why...”
You should contact a perinatal professional as soon as possible: psychologist, midwife, psychiatrist, etc. Seeking help as soon as possible will minimize the risk of developing another pathology, such as bipolar disorder or dysthymia, which will persist over time. Full support will be offered to the patient, and hospitalization may be suggested for both mother and baby.
What’s more, therapeutic follow-up can be a way of accepting that there isn’t necessarily a reason for all this. We often look for concrete reasons, but when there aren’t any, it can be very difficult to move on. Whatever the case, it’s important not to stigmatize the sufferer or the illness and to wait for a return to “normal”.
Editor’s note: Act quickly
Puerperal psychosis can be very scary as it affects our lucidity. However, it’s a disorder that can be treated well with therapeutic care. It’s important that those around you react quickly to avoid serious risks for both mother and child, so if you notice this in someone close to you, don’t hesitate to talk about it. The sooner, the better, to help both her and her baby.
🤗 Understanding yourself, accepting yourself, being happy... It’s here and now!
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