Postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis are two distinct but potentially severe mental health conditions that can affect people after childbirth.

Although both can occur in the postpartum period, they have distinct features and require different approaches to diagnosis and treatment.

Postpartum depression can cause persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion. Postpartum psychosis is a rare, severe condition involving hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized behavior.

This article explores each condition’s symptoms, risk factors, and prevention strategies.

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Postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis are distinct mental health conditions that can occur after childbirth.

Postpartum depression

Postpartum depression, also known as postnatal depression, is more common, affecting around 1 in 8 people who have recently given birth.

It results in symptoms such as:

Symptoms typically develop within the first few weeks after delivery. However, they can appear much later.

Postpartum psychosis

On the other hand, postpartum psychosis is far less common, affecting around 1 in 1,000 people with no history of mental illness who give birth.

It is marked by a rapid onset of symptoms, including:

Due to the severity of symptoms, a person with postpartum psychosis requires immediate medical attention.

Symptoms vary from person to person but commonly include:

  • persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
  • fears of being a bad parent and being left alone with the infant
  • mood swings and irritability
  • fatigue and low energy levels
  • changes in appetite
  • trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping
  • feeling disconnected or having difficulty bonding with the infant
  • intense feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or shame
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Click here for more links and local resources.

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Learn more about postpartum depression.

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis may include:

  • Hallucinations: Seeing or hearing things that are not there.
  • Delusions: Holding false beliefs not based on reality.
  • Disorganized thinking: Having difficulty organizing thoughts or making coherent connections.
  • Disorganized speech: Speaking in a way that is difficult to understand or does not follow a logical pattern.
  • Paranoia: Feeling extremely suspicious or mistrustful of others.
  • Incoherent or disorganized behavior: Acting in a manner that seems strange or unpredictable.
  • Reduced self-care: Having difficulty engaging in personal hygiene or basic self-care tasks.
  • Social withdrawal: Withdrawing from social interactions and avoiding others.
  • Emotional disturbances: Experiencing intense mood swings, agitation, or unusual emotional responses.
  • Impaired judgment and decision-making: Making decisions that are irrational or based on distorted perceptions.

Learn more about psychosis.

While postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis are distinct conditions, there are some similarities in their presentation and impact on mental health.

Both conditions:

  • occur after childbirth
  • can lead to significant emotional and psychological distress
  • cause symptoms such as mood disturbances, sleep disturbances, and difficulty bonding with an infant

Additionally, both conditions may involve feelings of guilt, shame, and hopelessness to differing degrees.

Various factors may affect the likelihood of a person developing one of these conditions.

Postpartum depression

Things that may increase the risk of postpartum depression include:

  • traumatic or stressful life events
  • a lack of social support
  • a previous or family history of depression
  • difficulties becoming pregnant
  • being a parent to twins or other multiples
  • being a teenager when giving birth
  • preterm labor, which occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy
  • pregnancy and birth complications

Postpartum psychosis

A person’s family history and genetic factors may contribute to their risk of developing this condition. If they have a close relative who has experienced postpartum psychosis, it is more likely that they will.

A previous personal history of postpartum psychosis, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia also increases the likelihood of an episode. However, even people with no history of mental health issues can develop postpartum psychosis.

Experts are still studying the mechanisms of the condition. Some believe hormone levels and disturbed sleep patterns could be involved. A traumatic birth or pregnancy may also contribute to a person’s risk of developing postpartum psychosis.

The causes of postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis are complex and not fully understood. However, they involve certain changes in the brain and its chemistry.

Individuals likely develop these conditions due to a combination of genetics, patterns of brain development, and exposure to stressors or trauma.

It may not be possible to prevent postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis entirely. However, the following strategies may reduce the risk of developing them and support a person’s mental health during the postpartum period:

  • Prenatal care: Attending regular prenatal checkups is essential for monitoring a pregnant person’s physical and emotional well-being. Doctors can also identify potential risk factors and provide appropriate guidance and support.
  • Social support: Where possible, having a strong support system of family, friends, and healthcare providers may help alleviate stress and provide emotional support during the postpartum period. It can also help promote open communication and enable a person to seek help when needed.
  • Self-care: Engaging in self-care practices, such as getting enough rest, participating in regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy diet, and managing stress as much as possible, can contribute to overall well-being.
  • Postpartum planning: Where possible, developing a postpartum plan that includes arrangements for support, child care, and self-care activities may help reduce stress and promote a smoother transition into parenthood.
  • Early intervention: Recognizing the early signs of postpartum depression and psychosis and seeking professional help promptly is important for effective management and prevention of worsening symptoms.

If a person is at high risk of postpartum psychosis because of current mental health issues, it is best for them to inform their psychiatrist and doctor when they become pregnant. Their mental health team should then arrange appropriate care and any necessary support.

Visit our dedicated hub for more in-depth resources on early parenthood and pregnancy.

After giving birth, an individual may experience postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis.

Postpartum depression is a common condition characterized by feelings of sadness, anxiety, and mood swings. Postpartum psychosis is a rare but severe condition marked by hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thinking. It is a medical emergency that requires comprehensive management.

Treatment and support are available for both conditions. By fostering awareness and providing adequate support, healthcare professionals and loved ones can play a significant role in promoting the well-being of individuals experiencing postpartum mental health challenges.