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. Luckily for women living in Wessex there are Specialist Perinatal Mental Health services covering the whole region, 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 leaflet on Bipolar disorder in pregnancy.

Contact details for both Hampshire and Dorset Specialist Perinatal Mental Health teams are available at the bottom of this page.

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

Top tips for pregnancy and bipolar disorder:

  • 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 out tips for healthy lifestyle on our other pages (LINK) 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 (see explanation in table below). 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:

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

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

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.

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

Hampshire Lanterns are a group of mums who have experienced mental health problems during pregnancy or after childbirth. They aim to support each other via the internet and group meetings so that no mum should ever have to suffer alone.

Telephone details for Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Teams:

Hampshire, Southampton, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight Perinatal Community Team:

01962 89 7780

Dorset Perinatal Community Team:

01202 584 329


Useful services & resources:

  • APP Network leaflet on bipolar
  • Tommy's
  • Bumps (website for information about medication in pregnancy)
  • Baby Buddy is the multi-award winning free app that guides you through pregnancy, birth, parenting and beyond. You can explore the web version of Baby Buddy or download the full version of the app for free on the App Store and Google Play. There is a lot of information including videos about your physical and mental health.

Content adapted from MIND and APP.

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