Post-Partum Depression or Bipolar Disorder?

It is not uncommon for a woman to have extreme delight and joy immediately following the birth of her baby and then suffer with feelings of inadequacy, often crying at the drop of a hat. About 70 percent of new mothers experience baby blues after childbirth. However, these usually dissipate within a few days of the birth.

Symptoms of Manic Depression

In some cases, especially in those women who have suffered with bipolar disorder, the predisposition to postpartum depression is exacerbated. Formerly referred to as manic depression, people with bipolar disorder go from feelings of elation to feelings of depression very quickly. These transitions are called "manic" symptoms and may often be missed when a woman ends up diagnosed with postpartum depression. Some of the normal symptoms associated with mania or hypomania include:

· diminished sleep

· feelings of elation

· increased activity

Confusing the Symptoms

These same symptoms tend to be experienced by new moms after they give birth. Women experiencing these symptoms may fail to report them to their doctors or their doctors may not twig to them, but will be aware of the other side of the emotional teeter-totter, those feelings of depression and lows. As a result, the condition is often diagnosed as postpartum depression (PPD), especially when the woman has not had a prior diagnosis of bipolar disorder. This type of misdiagnosis can have tragic repercussions. Of the myriad women who do suffer with "baby blues", about ten percent will develop postpartum depression, a condition in which a woman will exhibit symptoms such as:

· mood swings

· uncontrollable crying

· fatigue or exhaustion

· feelings of guilt

· inadequacy or worthlessness

· lack of interest in the baby

· other common signs of depression


Postpartum Psychosis, PPD, and Bipolar Disorder

There are over four million births in the United States every year. Of these, one or two women in one thousand will develop postpartum psychosis, resulting in the death of over 300 infants per year to infanticide and the suicide of more than 400 mothers per year in the US alone.

Studies that have been done suggest the sudden drop in estrogen levels that occurs immediately after the birth of a child combined with sleep disturbances both before and after the birth may have a bearing on the causes of postpartum illnesses like PPD and postpartum psychosis. Some researchers feel there is a solid connection between postpartum psychosis and bipolar spectrum illness.

Many women may actually have their first episode of bipolar disorder right after they give birth. Researchers theorize that new mothers who have psychotic episodes and intense mood swings are, in fact, experiencing their first bipolar event. They suggest the manic-depressive illness was dormant and was triggered by childbirth. The evidence is in the fact that 25 percent of women who have bipolar disorder began their illness with a postpartum episode according to a 2003 study.

One of the most significant risk factors for postpartum psychosis is either bipolar disorder or schizophrenia that was previously diagnosed. The other big risk factor is having a family history of one of these disorders. Women who have already had an episode or have experienced postpartum depression are at 20-50 percent risk of having it recur in future births.

Protecting Mother and Baby

If bipolar disorder has been diagnosed, it is of utmost importantance that the woman and those close to her are aware of the high risk of postpartum depression or psychosis and that prompt attention is vitally important to control the situation. There are some preventative measures that can be taken to avoid triggering an episode:

· The mother should not spend most of her time alone with the infant as it results in sleep disruptions that can worsen the situation.

· Stay in touch with the psychiatrist or therapist especially during the first six weeks after giving birth.

· Arrange for others to give care to the infant in order for the mother to rest.

· Choose medications over breastfeeding.

Postpartum illnesses can be controlled, but they require alertness in reading the signs and prompt notification of symptoms to a health care professional. Misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder or postpartum depression can result in the inappropriate application of medications that will only exacerbate the symptoms, fueling the disorder and possibly requiring psychiatric hospitalization.

The symptoms of postpartum psychosis are distinct and you can learn more about them and the disorder itself by reading here.

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