Evidence-Based Reviews

Postpartum psychosis: Protecting mother and infant

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Particularly in PPP, a mother may be at risk of child neglect or abuse due to her confused or delusional thinking and mood state.26 For example, one mother heated empty bottles and gave them to her baby, and then became frustrated when the baby continued to cry.

The risk of infanticide is also elevated in untreated PPP, with approximately 4% of these women committing infanticide.9 There are 5 motives for infanticide (Table 427). Altruistic and acutely psychotic motives are more likely to be related to PPP, while fatal maltreatment, unwanted child, and partner revenge motives are less likely to be related to PPP. Among mothers who kill both their child and themselves (filicide-suicide), altruistic motives were the most common.28 Mothers in psychiatric samples who kill their children have often experienced psychosis, suicidality, depression, and significant life stresses.27 Both infanticidal ideas and behaviors have been associated with psychotic thinking about the infant,29 so it is critical to ascertain whether the mother’s delusions or hallucinations involve the infant.30 In contrast, neonaticide (murder in the first day of life) is rarely related to PPP because PPP typically has a later onset.31

Infanticide motives: Not all are related to mental illness

Treating acute PPP

The fulminant nature of PPP can make its treatment difficult. Thinking through the case in an organized fashion is critical (Table 5).

Treatment plans for mothers with postpartum psychosis

Hospitalization. Postpartum psychosis is a psychiatric emergency with a rapid onset of symptoms. Hospitalization is required in almost all cases for diagnostic evaluation, assessment and management of safety, and initiation of treatment. While maternal-infant bonding in the perinatal period is important, infant safety is critical and usually requires maternal psychiatric hospitalization.

The specialized mother-baby psychiatric unit (MBU) is a model of care first developed in the United Kingdom and is now available in many European countries as well as in New Zealand and Australia. Mother-baby psychiatric units admit the mother and the baby together and provide dyadic treatment to allow for enhanced bonding and parenting support, and often to encourage breastfeeding.30 In the United States, there has been growing interest in specialized inpatient settings that acknowledge the importance of maternal-infant attachment in the treatment of perinatal disorders and provide care with a dyadic focus; however, differences in the health care payer system have been a barrier to full-scale MBUs. The Perinatal Psychiatry Inpatient Unit at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is among the first of such a model in the United States.32

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