Bipolar disorder

Having a baby is a major life event for any woman. If you have bipolar disorder there are a number of additional issues that you need to consider. All areas have a Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Service, and if you have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder your GP, midwife or health visitor should refer you to the specialist team.

The very best time to be referred is before you become pregnant. At this point you can have an appointment for preconceptual counselling. This is where you talk through your history, your current situation, what medication you are taking and so on. This enables you to be prescribed the best medication for both you and your baby's health, and a chance to talk through other issues such as the amount of support you will have during your pregnancy and once your baby arrives. Click here to read a really helpful webpage on Bipolar disorder in pregnancy from APP Network.

What you need to know

  • Tip 1

    Information on Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Teams


    To find your local PNMH specialist community team click here.


    If you have bipolar disorder you will need the support of your local Specialist Perinatal Mental Health team to help you throughout your pregnancy and postnatally. This is because:


    You are more likely to relapse in pregnancy than at other times


    You may be at extra risk of developing postpartum psychosis

  • Tip 2

    What can help?


    Not sure of your diagnosis? See your GP - a number of different mental health problems have symptoms that can seem quite similar to bipolar but which need very different treatment so it's really important to get an accurate diagnosis.


    Got a diagnosis? Seek advice from your Specialist Perinatal Mental Health team as soon as possible via referral from your GP - before you get pregnant if you can get preconceptual counselling but if not as soon possible in your pregnancy. Check out tips for healthy lifestyle on our other pages and start making some positive changes even before you become pregnant.


    Prepare for when your baby arrives by making sure you have support and practical help to ensure you get enough rest.


    Depression, which is common with bipolar disorder, can be a very serious illness - don't be afraid to tell someone if you start thinking that life's not worth living or you are not a good enough mother.


    Bipolar used to be known as 'manic depression', because people tend to experience extreme moods - both low (depressed), and high or excited (manic). Some women with bipolar disorder also experience psychosis. While we don't know exactly what causes bipolar, it is often inherited. Women with a family history of bipolar are more likely to develop the disorder when they're pregnant or after the baby is born.


    Women with a personal history of bipolar of postpartum (puerperal) psychosis are also at greater risk of relapsing at this time. You may need admission to a Mother and Baby Unit but this will be discussed with you antenatally by your specialist team and you will get an opportunity while you are pregnant to visit your nearest unit, look around and meet the staff.


    Bipolar disorder can be initially difficult to notice and/or diagnose, but some of the symptoms to look out for are:

  • Tip 3

    Common depression (low) symptoms:

    - You feel generally down most of the time

    - You can't be bothered with things

    - You can't concentrate or make decisions

    - You don't enjoy life

    - You're tired and don't have any energy

    - You can't get to sleep and/or you wake up early

    - You feel tearful

    - You feel irritable and don't want to be with other people

    - You feel restless and agitated

    - You lose your self-confidence

    - You feel worthless

    - You feel guilty

    - You lose your appetite or have a much greater appetite than usual

    - You lose interest in sex

    - You think about suicide

    - You constantly worry about the baby's health and wellbeing and/or of your own or your family

    - You have overwhelming thoughts that you are a bad mother, or that the baby would be better without you

  • Tip 4

    Common examples of manic (high) symptoms:


    - You feel extremely happy, excited and optimistic

    - You feel you don't need to sleep

    - You talk quickly and jump from one idea to another

    - You are restlessly active

    - You make grandiose, unrealistic plans

    - You start things but find it really difficult to see things through

  • Tip 5

    In a severe episode you may also have psychotic symptoms:
    You may have beliefs that you are convinced are true, but which others people recognise are not (delusions). For example:
    Grandiose beliefs (you have special powers or are on a special mission)
    Negative beliefs (you are the worst person ever)
    You may hear voices


    If you have bipolar disorder you won't necessarily experience all of these symptoms. If you are experiencing these symptoms yourself or notice them in a woman who is pregnant or recently had a baby seek urgent assistance from your GP, local Specialist Perinatal Mental Health team (see below for details) or out of hours GP.


    Medication: You will need to seek the advice of your GP initially for a referral to a Specialist Perinatal Mental Health team. If you have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and are taking medication then you need to have a review as soon as possible. Luckily in Wessex the whole area is covered by these teams and you can find you nearest one here (see the contact details below). It is not generally recommended that you take holistic medication without speaking to your GP in the first instance.

  • Tip 6

    Here are some of the different ways you can access support locally:


    Need help right now?

    NHS 111





    Find your nearest Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Team here. They can help you to get the help you need.

If you are considering becoming pregnant and have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder contact your local Perinatal mental health service for a Preconceptual counselling appointment.

If you are pregnant , have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and are currently well you should still be referred to the Perinatal Mental Health service to support you in your pregnancy and postnatally.You may also find some useful tips for keeping well here.

Bipolar diagnosis, pregnant or postnatal and starting to feel unwell? Get referred to your Local PNMHS Service.

Bipolar diagnosis pregnant or postnatal and feeling unwell now?If you are not already linked into your Local Perinatal Mental Health Service you need this right now.They can offer lots of interventions and support that can help you feel better . Make sure you have someone with you to help out as things can change quickly.

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