"My symptoms started to decrease during my time on the MBU, where I spent around seven weeks altogether. Initially I was under 24 hour observation, but then, as I started to get better, I was able to start building back my confidence and gaining my independence again."
On this page:
- Getting urgent help
- Treatment in hospital
- If your partner is admitted to hospital
- Electroconvulsive therapy
Getting urgent help
If you or someone else thinks you might have symptoms of postpartum psychosis then you need to be seen urgently.
If you have a high risk of postpartum psychosis, you may have a care plan with emergency contact numbers for your mental health team or local crisis service.
You may not have a care plan. In this case you should see your GP urgently (get a same-day emergency appointment) or attend your local A&E department.
If you are told you don’t have postpartum psychosis but your symptoms get worse, you should make sure you are seen again.
Getting help and having treatment is the best thing for you and your baby.
Some women and their partners are worried that if they seek help for symptoms of mental illness, people may think they can’t care for their baby. It is very rare for babies to be removed from women who have postpartum psychosis. Most women recover fully and become good mothers.
Most mums with postpartum psychosis need to be treated with medication. It is a very effective treatment. You are likely to find that your symptoms begin to improve between 3 to 6 weeks of starting medication.
These are the medications commonly used to treat postpartum psychosis. The links will take you to further information on Mind’s website.
- Antipsychotics are used to help treat psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations. They can also be used to help reduce mania.
- Sleeping tablets can be used in the short term to help regain normal sleeping patterns.
- Benzodiazepines are used to help reduce agitation and anxiety.
- Mood stabilisers are used to treat high mood (mania), low mood (depression) and dramatic changes in mood.
- Antidepressants are used to treat low mood. If you have postpartum psychosis, there is a risk that antidepressants alone would cause high mood or agitation so you would usually be given a mood stabiliser as well.
Managing side effects of medication
Medication can have unpleasant side effects. The Choice and Medication website is a good place to find information on side effects.
Common side effects of antipsychotics are extreme tiredness and weight gain. These can be hard to manage in the long term.
Talk to the prescribing doctor if you or your partner have any concerns about medication. If you are not under the treatment of a specialist team, you can ask your GP or mental health team to ask for advice from a perinatal psychologist.
It’s OK to ask your mental health team to work together with you to reduce your dosage to a level that minimises side effects whilst still keeping you well.
If you feel the psychiatrist or GP is not listening to your concerns you could try:
- requesting a joint meeting with a specialist pharmacist,
- requesting a joint meeting with a mental health advocate, and
- writing down your concerns about your medication.
It is not safe to stop taking medication suddenly and without support from a doctor.
Our information on being a parent after postpartum psychosis has more information on medication and breastfeeding.
Medication during recovery
In the first 6-12 months of recovery, it is likely that you will be taking prescribed medication of some sort. During recovery you might feel as if medication only helps with half the problem – symptoms but not self-confidence. It’s important to use more active recovery methods alongside medication to help with the social side of recovery.
Don’t be afraid to remind professionals prescribing your medication that you have a young baby and you want to be able to do as much as you can to care for them.
Some women find that taking medication at bedtime reduces sleepiness in the day. Talk to your mental health team about altering the time of day that you take your medication.
Give yourself plenty of time to get going in the morning wherever possible.
Try longer walks with the pram or sling, or take your baby swimming, to help with fatigue and weight gain associated with medication. When you are feeling more up to it, other kinds of exercise can help too.
Treatment in hospital
A Mother and Baby Unit is a specialist psychiatric unit where mums with mental illness can go with their babies. You will be supported in looking after your baby while you get the care and treatment you need. Read more about MBUs here.
General psychiatric admission
There may not be a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) near you, or there may be no beds available.
You may be admitted to a general psychiatric ward. If that happens, your partner or family will need to care for your baby (our guide for partners has more advice for them). Alternatively, social workers can find a temporary carer for your baby until an MBU bed is available or you are well enough to look after your baby yourself.
If you are treated in a general psychiatric ward, you’ll probably be separated from your baby at least some of the time. Some people find this confusing, upsetting or traumatising. For others it can be the right decision. Either way, you may worry about how to maintain a bond with your baby and continue to feel like a mum. Here are some ideas on how to cope when separated from your baby.
Staff can use CPMS to search daily for MBU beds in the UK. You may need to ask them to do this regularly. You can be transferred to an MBU as soon as you are well enough or a place becomes available.
If you are not willing to go to hospital for treatment but doctors feel it is important for you to get treatment and help, you may be compulsorily admitted (sectioned). This can be very scary, especially if you don’t feel you need to go to hospital. You would only be sectioned to ensure you get the treatment you need as soon as possible.
My partner has been admitted to hospital
Our info for partners, friends and family has more support and suggestions for what you need and how you can prepare.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
If you have severe symptoms of postpartum psychosis for a long time, and if medication doesn’t seem to be helping, doctors may recommend electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). We don’t know how ECT works, but it can be an effective treatment for postpartum psychosis. There are a lot of things to consider when deciding whether to consent to ECT. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has a good overview of things to think about.