If you, your partner or family think that you have symptoms of postpartum psychosis you need to be seen urgently. If you have been told during pregnancy that you have a high risk of postpartum psychosis you may have a care plan. This should include emergency contact numbers for your mental health team or local crisis service.
You may not have this type of plan, or you may not have had any mental illness before. In that case you should see your GP urgently (the same day). If this is not possible, call NHS 111, your local out of hours service, or attend your local A&E department. If you are told you do not have postpartum psychosis but your symptoms worsen, you should make sure you are seen again. If you think there is imminent danger, call 999 and ask for an ambulance.
Most women with postpartum psychosis need to be treated in hospital. Ideally you should be offered a bed in a Mother & Baby Unit (MBU). This is a specialist psychiatric unit where mothers with mental illness are admitted with their babies. You will be supported in caring for your baby whilst you have the care and treatment you need.
There are many parts of the country with no Mother and Baby Unit. Even where there are MBUs, there may not be a bed available. You may be admitted to a general psychiatric ward. If that happens, your partner or family will need to care for your baby. If you have nobody else who can look after your baby, social workers can find a temporary carer. This will only be until an MBU bed is available or until you are well enough to care for your baby yourself. You may choose to be admitted to a general ward if the nearest specialist MBU is far from your home.
Help in caring for my baby
During the severe part of the illness you will probably need help caring for your baby. You are likely to need practical help. You may also need help to bond with your baby. Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) staff are trained to support you with all aspects of caring for your baby. If you do not go to an MBU, there are people who can help and support you once you go home. These include health visitors and mental health professionals. There may be a local perinatal or parent-infant mental health service. In some areas Children’s Centre staff or and voluntary organisations can also help.
It is normal to lack confidence with mothering after postpartum psychosis. Remember that most new mothers who have not had an illness also feel like this. You may find it hard to attend mother and baby groups when recovering from postpartum psychosis. Health visitors and community psychiatric nurses can give you one to one advice until you feel up to attending groups with other mothers.
Some mothers have difficulty bonding with their babies after an episode of postpartum psychosis. This can be very distressing. Usually these problems don’t last long. Most women who have had postpartum psychosis go on to have very good relationships with their babies. Talk to your health visitor or other professionals involved in your care. They can tell you what help is available in your area. Health professionals can support you in learning how to interact with and respond to your baby. You may find baby massage and other groups for new parents helpful.
Care and support for you during recovery
Allow your partner, family or friends to help and support you while you get better (see the partners section).
Usually you will need to have care from a mental health service until you fully recover. This team can advise you about treatment. They can support you and your family. You may have care from a perinatal or parent-infant mental health service.
These specialist teams do not exist in all areas. In that case your local community mental health team, health visitor and GP will continue to support you whilst you recover.
For further information about treatment or recovering from postpartum psychosis (PP) see our APP guides. Through APP you can talk to other women who have recovered from PP using our Peer Support Network or Facebook page. We have put together a list of resources where you can gain further information about PP and links to other useful organisations. For those needing expert consultation with a psychiatrist, find out more about the Cardiff University Psychiatry Service.
Watch Dr Angela Walsh discussing St Georges Mother & Baby Unit
*Please note: the phone number shown at the end of the video is no longer active. Please contact us if you have any specific questions.