A review of postpartum psychosis

J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2006 May;15(4):352-68. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2006.15.352.


Objective: The objective is to provide an overview of the clinical features, prognosis, differential diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment of postpartum psychosis.

Methods: The authors searched Medline (1966-2005), PsycInfo (1974-2005), Toxnet, and PubMed databases using the key words postpartum psychosis, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, organic psychosis, pharmacotherapy, psychotherapy, and electroconvulsive therapy. A clinical case is used to facilitate the discussion.

Results: The onset of puerperal psychosis occurs in the first 1-4 weeks after childbirth. The data suggest that postpartum psychosis is an overt presentation of bipolar disorder that is timed to coincide with tremendous hormonal shifts after delivery. The patient develops frank psychosis, cognitive impairment, and grossly disorganized behavior that represent a complete change from previous functioning. These perturbations, in combination with lapsed insight into her illness and symptoms, can lead to devastating consequences in which the safety and well-being of the affected mother and her offspring are jeopardized. Therefore, careful and repeated assessment of the mothers' symptoms, safety, and functional capacity is imperative. Treatment is dictated by the underlying diagnosis, bipolar disorder, and guided by the symptom acuity, patient's response to past treatments, drug tolerability, and breastfeeding preference. The somatic therapies include antimanic agents, atypical antipsychotic medications, and ECT. Estrogen prophylaxis remains purely investigational.

Conclusions: The rapid and accurate diagnosis of postpartum psychosis is essential to expedite appropriate treatment and to allow for quick, full recovery, prevention of future episodes, and reduction of risk to the mother and her children and family.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Depression, Postpartum / diagnosis*
  • Depression, Postpartum / prevention & control
  • Depression, Postpartum / therapy*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Personality Disorders / diagnosis
  • Personality Disorders / therapy
  • Postnatal Care / methods*
  • Self Concept
  • Social Support
  • Women's Health*


  • Antipsychotic Agents