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Women who suffer from post-partum psychosis have hope

Photo: Hope for mums with post-partum psychosis
An Australian study has shown proper treatment for post-partum psychosis can keep mums and bubs together.

Women who suffer from post-partum psychosis have hope of being able to care for their baby with the right medical intervention, experts say.

An Australian study shows that even women with the most severe form of the serious psychiatric illness recover well and are able to care for their children.

While rare, post-partum psychosis is an extremely debilitating psychiatric emergency that is distinctly different to postnatal depression.

The mother can completely lose touch with reality, suffer delusions and hallucinations.

Hospitalisation is required nearly always to protect the mother and her baby.
A five-year study conducted at mother-baby unit Helen Mayo House in South Australia has shown that with proper treatment, all the women admitted between 2012 and 2016 made a full recovery from post-partum psychosis and went on to independently care for their baby after discharge.

Importantly, weeks of separation between the mother and baby was avoided, says Dr Rebecca Hill from the Women's and Children's Health Network in Adelaide.

All patients received antipsychotic medication and one on one nursing care. A few also required lithium, a mood stabiliser.

"On the whole, mothers made a complete recovery and did so within weeks. The average length of stay was about three weeks," Dr Hill told AAP.

"Amazingly, breastfeeding rates were highly preserved, with 77 per cent of women still breastfeeding at the time of discharge," Dr Hill said.

The study, to be presented at The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists Annual Congress next week, provides strong hope for sufferers and their families, Dr Hill said.

"Although it's a shocking and terrible condition that no one would want, there is extremely effective treatment so that women can make a recovery quite quickly and return to normal life."

Unfortunately not all women in Australia have access to the same level of support.

"In NSW, there is no public mother-baby unit so they have absolutely no option to receive treatment with their baby," Dr Hill said.

"There is a sort of an inequity across Australia in terms of that access to care and that can make a huge difference to the mother-baby relationship over time.

"Relationships can be resilient but it can be quite traumatic for the baby if the mum just disappears for several weeks at that early stage when its main concern in life is to make a sustained connection with a primary caregiver," Dr Hill added.

President of the RANZCP, Professor Malcolm Hopwood said the study showed the need for identification and early intervention.

For women who have suffered post-partum psychosis, the risk of recurrence is 50 per cent.

"The good news for these women is that with the right care, they can bond with their babies and care for them like any other new mother," said Prof Hopwood.

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