What is Postnatal Psychosis?  

Written by Feba Maryann  

Postnatal psychosis or puerperal psychosis is one of the most severe forms of psychological disorders that new mums can potentially suffer during the postnatal period. It causes erratic mood swings and a significant change in behaviour.   

Postnatal depression affects 1 in 7 mums every year in Australia, however postnatal psychosis is an extremely rare condition that affects only about 1-2 women in every 1000 mums. Postnatal psychosis can even affect women without a history of mental illness, the symptoms can show up quickly – right from a few hours after giving birth.   

It is a life-threatening condition that needs immediate attention and urgent medical assistance. They will need to undergo personalised psychiatric treatment and ongoing assessment throughout the recovery process.   

Signs and Symptoms  

Symptoms usually start to show up within the first few weeks of childbirth. Women with postpartum psychosis tend to display a wide range of symptoms, here are a few indicators you need to look out for:  

  • Delusional Thinking – possessing paranoid thoughts, changes in sense perception, disordered thinking, hallucinations. For instance, the mother might feel like the people around her are constant threats to her baby, she might keep the newborn away from her partner and relatives and try to block all external contacts.   
  • Hysteria – possessing an abundance of energy, shows aggressive behaviour and extreme mood swings. Might have difficulty sleeping and concentrating. Might also start feeling upset with no apparent reason.   
  • Depression – In severe cases, the mother might attempt to harm herself or her baby. Her senses might slow down, she might start responding at a lower pace.   

What Causes Postnatal Psychosis?  

We know very little about the causes of this mental illness. However, women with a history of postpartum psychosis or bipolar disorder have increased chances of being affected by the illness. Rarely, postnatal psychosis could lead to a bipolar disorder.    

Hormonal fluctuations and sleep deprivation after giving birth could also be contributing factors. Physical or mental stress due to delivery also weighs in, for instance the guilt of having a Cesarean delivery could force a new mum into extreme mood swings and erratic behaviour.  

Treatment Options  

Postnatal Psychosis is a curable disorder. The treatment for postnatal psychosis is highly dependent on the situation, it varies from person to person. The treatment options range from light medication or therapies to getting admitted to the hospital for psychiatric assessment. This depends on the severity of the case.   

However, family members should be aware of the mental state of the woman. Even on the slightest symptoms, either the person should be immediately hospitalized or act as per the doctor’s advice.  

Emergency and Hospitalization  

Fortunately, most times, the disorder is diagnosed when the mother is still in the hospital after delivery. Timely diagnosis makes the treatment easier. In other cases, family members realise the severity much later, causing a delay in treatment and complications in recovery.  

At such times, the family should contact the emergency psychiatric helpline or admit the person in the nearest hospital. You can also contact the GP or the hospital itself for advice and help. Further delay increases potential risks to both the baby and the mother.  


Your psychiatrist will prescribe a mix of multiple treatments as per your condition. These will mostly consist of antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilisers. The drastic hormonal changes in your body are to blame for these mood swings and disorders.   

Medication is a high risk factor, and it is never advisable to take medicines during pregnancy or breast-feeding phase. So, it is important for you to enquire your psychiatrist about the pills’ benefit, side-effects and potential risks. Though in some rare severe cases medication becomes necessary. In most cases therapy and timely prevention works the best for postnatal psychosis.   


Therapy is the best possible way to cure postnatal psychosis. There are numerous therapies that address postnatal depression. Some of them include your baby’s involvement, further strengthening your bond. However, do not try self-medicating or self-therapy. Trust your doctor, they will guide you with the best one according to your situation.  

Recovering from severe symptoms of postnatal psychosis generally takes about two weeks to three months, depending on the severity and treatment. However, a complete recovery can take about six to twelve months.  

Self-Help Tips  

You can develop your own emotional support plan during or before pregnancy. List out the things you will do to distract yourself or the people you can trust and contact in case of emergency.  

Read books, eat well, sleep well, and connect with people who make you feel comfortable.  

You cannot keep everything to yourself and seal your heart from everyone. Share your feelings with people who understand and support you.  

Get out of your house for fresh air. Lose yourself in nature and meditate calmly. This sheer sense of positivity and good energy helps alleviate symptoms.  

Remember, your baby needs you. Recovery takes time, but never lose hope. Everything will be perfect again. Just yourself some time.