Having a new baby can be an incredibly exciting time in your life, but it can also be a scary one. Physical changes to your body, hormonal changes, lack of sleep, and drastic changes to your lifestyle can all create confusion and uncertainty for what the future holds for you and your new family. While it’s common for many new parents to experience mild mood changes after having a baby which typically last for a couple of weeks, often known as the “baby blues,” some individuals may experience more serious, long-lasting symptoms which can be severe and even life-threatening to the parent and their baby.

These severe symptoms may be due to postpartum psychosis, also known as puerperal psychosis, which is a rare but serious mental illness which typically requires immediate medical treatment. Postpartum psychosis often has a sudden onset of symptoms but usually develops within the first two weeks after delivery of a baby. Continue reading below to learn about the causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention of this serious mental illness. 


There is no singular cause for postpartum psychosis, however various physical and emotional issues may contribute to its onset and some individuals may have certain risk factors that can put them at greater risk of developing this condition after giving birth. These factors may include:

  • A previous diagnosis of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia 
  • A family history of mental illness or postpartum psychosis 
  • A diagnosis of postpartum psychosis after a previous pregnancy
  • Rapid hormonal changes during delivery
  • Physical stress of delivery 
  • Severe sleep deprivation after the baby is born


Postpartum psychosis is a serious but rare condition that affects 1-2 of 1000 women and typically develops within the first two weeks after giving birth but more rarely, can even develop several weeks after the baby is born. The symptoms commonly occur suddenly, can vary, and are usually severe. Individuals may experience the following signs and symptoms:

  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Brain fog and lack of concentration 
  • Severe anxiety and agitation
  • Obsessive thoughts about baby 
  • Delusions and hallucinations
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Hyperactivity 
  • Rapid, severe mood swings
  • Paranoia 
  • Mania or a “high feeling”
  • Depression or a severe low mood
  • Attempts to harm oneself or baby

If you believe you or someone you know is experiencing postpartum psychosis and is experiencing feelings of harming themselves or others, it’s important to seek help right away. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to those in need. Support can be reached by calling 1-800-273-8255 or via online chat. 


With early intervention, a proper treatment plan, and the right support, postpartum psychosis is treatable and individuals can make a full recovery. For an individual experiencing postpartum psychosis, their treatment may depend on various factors including an underlying diagnosis of a mental illness, response to any past treatments, drug tolerability, and breast feeding preferences. Common forms of treatment for postpartum psychosis may include:

In-Patient Hospitalization

Postpartum psychosis is a serious mental illness which is typically treated as a medical emergency therefore in-patient hospitalization is often necessary. Without proper treatment, the symptoms can worsen, putting both the baby and the caregiver at risk. 


If an individual is diagnosed with postpartum psychosis, their doctor may prescribe certain medications depending on their symptoms and specific needs. These medications may include:

  • Antidepressants for symptoms of depression
  • Anti-psychotics to ease symptoms of delusions, hallucinations, and mania
  • Mood stabilizers to prevent reoccurrence of symptoms. 

It’s important to receive a proper diagnosis and discuss your individual risks with a medical professional before taking any medication. 

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a medical procedure often used for severe mental illnesses where controlled electric currents are passed through the brain while the individual is under general anesthesia. Individuals may need at least 4-6 sessions before they see improvement. Studies show electroconvulsive therapy can be an effective treatment option for those experiencing postpartum psychosis. However, it is considered a controversial treatment and is less commonly used in the United States compared to other countries. ECT may be used as a treatment for individuals experiencing severe symptoms, don’t respond well to other forms of treatment, or it may be used as a treatment to reduce risks associated with medication exposure while breastfeeding. 


Counseling with a licensed therapist may be beneficial for individuals in recovery from postpartum psychosis or in conjunction with other treatments and therapies. A professional therapist may be able to provide an individual with tools and strategies to help them overcome the challenges regarding postpartum and create an effective plan to manage their symptoms. 


While the cause of postpartum may be unknown and individuals may not be able to prevent it indefinitely, those with a higher risk of potentially developing postpartum psychosis may be able to reduce their risk of developing the condition with preventative measures. 

  • Specialist Care – For individuals with risks associated with the condition, it may be beneficial to seek specialist care from a prenatal psychiatrist during the pregnancy.
  • Pre-birth planning – For those at higher risk of developing postpartum psychosis, it may be helpful to develop a treatment plan pre-birth with everyone involved including your partner, mental health professional, midwife, and obstetrician. The plan will make everyone involved aware of the potential risk and may include the exact plan for treatment.
  • Hormone therapy – For the risks associated with severe hormonal changes, your doctor may recommend a hormone therapy during pregnancy or immediately postpartum.
  • Early screening – Early screening for symptoms of postpartum psychosis can be effective for early intervention.
  • Preventative drug therapy – Postpartum prophylactic treatment is a form of treatment that is typically recommended for those with a history of mental illness that puts them at a greater risk. This treatment begins immediately after birth to reduce the risk of medication exposure to the baby. 


If you believe you or someone you care about is experiencing postpartum psychosis, it’s important to seek help from a medical professional right away. While the symptoms may be serious, with proper support and treatment, an individual experiencing this condition can make a full recovery and safely care for their baby.