By Sophie King, Tommy's Midwife.
It's more likely that you will have mental health problems during or after pregnancy than at other time in your life. It happens to around 1 in 5 people and many of these will never have had mental ill-health before.
Research from Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP) has shown that antenatal classes usually focus on any physical health problems you might have during pregnancy – but they don’t always talk about postnatal mental health. We often only hear about postnatal depression and the ‘baby blues’.
Postpartum psychosis is not common, but it is a severe mental illness that affects 1-2 in every 1000 births (around 1,400 families) every year in the UK. The illness can develop very quickly – often within the first few days after birth. Symptoms are often confusing and scary for families to experience. Knowing what to look out for and how to get help can save lives:
Symptoms of postpartum psychosis to look out for
- Confusion or racing thoughts
- Feeling unusually elated, frightened or tearful
- Unable to sleep, or seeing no need for it
- Beliefs that are unusual or that others find concerning
- Seeing, hearing or sensing things that others can’t.
Talking about postnatal mental illness during pregnancy
Only 6% of pregnant people are given any information about postpartum psychosis at their antenatal classes but all parents-to-be should know the symptoms and how to get the help if they need it.
"Due to COVID my partner and I couldn’t do in person antenatal classes so instead we did a lot of online antenatal classes. It was like we were studying every weekend for an exam! We wanted to know everything and anything about giving birth and preparing for it. We also spoke to a few friends who are parents for advice. The one thing which wasn’t mentioned by anyone was the likelihood of having a mental illness.
"I previously had heard of baby blues and depression, but I didn’t know the extent of it. In the Asian culture I have been brought up with people talking about giving birth and how difficult it is, but no one talks about mental illness and difficulties following birth. I assumed I would have a quick recovery following birth and everything would go back to normal.
After the birth
"After the baby was born though, things changed. I became quite elated, but I was also really confused and acting in bizarre ways. I had racing thoughts and I was hearing and seeing things that weren’t there. I was talking at a hundred miles an hour and constantly writing, researching and messaging people on my phone.
"These behaviours were symptoms that I recognised from my Masters in forensic psychology, so at times it seemed I had ‘insight’ into what was happening to me. In reality, I had no idea just how unwell I was.
"Eventually, I was admitted to a Mother and Baby Unit in Nottingham, so it wasn’t too far from home. I didn’t trust anybody, so when they tried to give me medication it was a real challenge. After a while, I found a leaflet about postpartum psychosis and began to recognise that it really was what was happening to me. I had been told my diagnosis by health professionals but until that point, I refused to believe them. Eventually I started trusting their care and taking medication, which brought me back to my usual self.
"It's important to act if your partner is not acting their normal self, don’t just think it will slide - investigate it. The quicker you respond the quicker your partner can make a good recovery.”
"I have a 1-year-old now and I’d say the best thing about being a mum is watching him grow and achieve his various milestones. He’s learning something new each and every day and it makes me feel proud to watch him grow.
"I’m now using my experience of postpartum psychosis to work on APP’s Diverse Communities Outreach Project, raising awareness of postpartum psychosis and breaking down the barriers to talking about mental health in the Muslim community."
Read more or get support and information at the Action on Postpartum Psychosis website.