Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Puerperal psychosis from Conception, Pregnancy & Birth: The Childbirth Bible for Today's Parents

This is a rare psychotic form of postpartum depression that affects about one in 1,000 mothers. The sufferer loses contact with reality, may experience delusions or hallucinations, and always has to spend some time in the hospital. Treatment may include drugs, psychotherapy, and/or electroconvulsive therapy.


Summary Article: Postpartum Psychosis
from The Multimedia Encyclopedia of Women in Today's World

Only experienced by one or two women out of 1,000, postpartum psychosis (PPP) is a rare and extreme form of postpartum mood disorders and is seen in women who lose touch with reality shortly after birth. Usually occurring during the first three months after childbirth, women with PPP are often misdiagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD), a less severe form of PPP. The defense attorneys for Andrea Yates—in her highly publicized 2001 case about the drowning of her five young children in a bathtub—built a case around PPP. Yates was later found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a Texas state mental hospital.

The number of women with PPP has not changed since it was first recognized as a disorder in 1850. PPP is thought to be caused by a number of possible events, such as hormone changes after birth, low self-esteem due to postpartum appearance, lack of social and emotional support, financial strain, and a host of other factors. PPP has a 5 percent suicide rate and a 4 percent infanticide rate. Women who have a personal and/or family history of psychosis, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia are at an increased risk of developing PPP. Those who have had past experience with PPP are between 20 and 50 percent more likely to develop the condition again.

There are a number of symptoms and signs that a woman is experiencing PPP, but the best course of action is to seek urgent help from a healthcare professional, since PPP can often be treated with immediate medical attention. Symptoms often develop during the first two to three weeks after birth, and can include guilt, delusions, hallucinations, illogical thoughts, refusal to eat or drink, insomnia, suicidal or homicidal thoughts, periods of mania, extreme feelings of anxiety and agitation, and the inability to distinguish reality from imagination.

Women with PPP are often misdiagnosed as having PPD and suffer from a lack of adequate treatment. Some women are unaware that anything is seriously wrong, misinterpreting their feelings as the “baby blues,” and thus find it difficult to consult a physician. PPP is typically treated with antipsychotic medications, which may be combined with antidepressants or antianxiety drugs, and also may benefit from individual psychotherapy or group therapy. With proper treatment, women with PPP usually recover. Without proper treatment, a woman can be hospitalized for failure to adequately care for herself and her child.

See Also:

Anxiety Disorders, Depression, Health, Mental and Physical, Infanticide, Mental Illness, Incidence Rates of, Postpartum Depression, Psychological Disorders by Gender, Rates of, Suicide Rates, Yates, Andrea.

Further Readings
  • McNamara, Melissa “Andrea Yates Found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity; Will Be Committed to State Mental Hospital.” http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/07/26/national/main1837248.shtml (accessed November 2009).
  • Pregnancy Info.net. “Post-Partum Psychosis.” http://www.pregnancy-info.net/postpartum_psychosis.html (accessed November 2009).
  • Stackman, Valerie R.
    © SAGE Publications, Inc

    Related Articles


    Full text Article POSTPARTUM PSYCHOSIS
    Dictionary of Psychopathology

    Usually seen in women immediately after giving birth and frequently associated with postpartum depression.

    Full text Article puerperal psychosis
    Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Psychology

    A type of psychotic disorder occurring at or shortly following childbirth. Extreme mood symptoms are usually evident. The risk of puerperal...

    Full text Article puerperal psychosis
    Dictionary of Medical Terms

    noun a psychiatric disorder that some women may experience in the first two weeks after giving birth ...

    See more from Credo