Perhaps it comes on suddenly, or seems to sneak up on you, but you begin to notice that a new mom in your life seems to have stopped sleeping entirely. Or perhaps she seems often to be confused or disorientated. She may express obsessive thoughts about her baby, or hears voices or seems to be hallucinating. She may even appear manic, in an excited frenzy or paranoid believing the world to be out to hurt her or her child. Contrary to what you might usually associate with postpartum depression she may not seem depressed but have periods of frantic behavior. She may hint a suicidal thoughts, and appears to have a plan, or is visualizing hurting herself or her baby. The above are possible symptoms of postpartum psychosis. A very severe postpartum illness.


What should I do if I suspect a new mom in my life has PPP?
If a new mom in your life is exhibiting some of the symptoms described above understand that she may not recognize that what she is seeing and hearing is not real. Don’t wait and hope for the symptoms to go away. Make sure the she and the baby are safe and get immediate help. Call 911 if necessary.

If postpartum psychosis is rare why should we care?

Postpartum psychosis affects 0.1-0.2% of women postpartum, as compared to the approximate 15% who face postpartum depression. But in a country where 4 million babies are born every year that translates to 4,000-8,000 moms in the United States facing a debilitating and potentially dangerous disease.

Why does postpartum psychosis occur?

Pearl Aviles, cofacilitator of TMC for Women’s Pregnancy and Postpartum Depression Support Group [link] and President of the Tucson Postpartum Depression Coalition [link], explains what can prompt the onset of postpartum mood disorders, “Significant hormonal changes take place during pregnancy and after childbirth which may trigger a chemical imbalance causing perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

Mothers often feel shame and guilt and do not understand what is happening to them. While physical complications of perinatal health like gestational diabetes are routinely screened for and understood, the emotional and mental health changes in women are not always identified and treated. It is so important that mothers ask for help because these illnesses are treatable and they can get well.”

Aviles and Tara Stanislav, RN who together facilitate the Pregnancy and Postpartum depression support group [link] at TMC for Women explain the difference between postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis is that those with postpartum psychosis feel as though the intrusive thoughts need to be acted upon. Mothers with postpartum depression may have intrusive thoughts, but they are bothered by them and know the thoughts are abnormal. A mother with psychosis will begin to believe that the thoughts must be acted on ex. Andrea Yates, the Texan woman drowned her five young children to save them from what she believed was eternal damnation.

Who does postpartum psychosis affect?

Postpartum depression and psychosis can affect any woman, no matter her socio-economic class, whether she’s had mental health illnesses previously or whether she has had PPD previously. However, about half those with identified postpartum psychosis are identified as bipolar or have had a psychotic episode previously. The remaining 50 percent have no history of mental health. Postpartum psychosis can appear in the days after birth and in the months following birth.

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis to be aware of:

  • Stops sleeping entirely
  • Seems confused or disorientated
  • Hears voices or seems to be hallucinating
    Appears to have obsessive thoughts about their baby
  • Becomes manic or paranoid
  • Is suicidal and has a plan
  • Mentions that she is visualizing hurting herself or the baby.

Aviles-Taub and Stanislav stress that postpartum mood disorders are the result of a chemical imbalance and encourage women to not suffer in silence. Understand these illnesses are treatable. Do not allow shame to stand in the way of help and survival.

The TMC for Women Pregnancy and Postpartum Depression Support Group mentioned previously is a support group rather than a therapeutic group for those facing pregnancy and postpartum depression not postpartum psychosis. If you suspect that someone you love has postpartum psychosis contact the emergency services or bring them to your closest hospital.

Local Resources:

For emergency care in Tucson, call 911 or go to your closest hospital emergency room.

Tucson Postpartum Depression Coalition provides information about local providers who have expressed an interest in caring for perinatal women or have advanced their education in the area of perinatal mood disorders

The AZ Warmline is available for mother to mother support every day in English and Spanish, 1-800- 434-MOMS (6667).

For additional resources go to the TPDC or PSI websites: