I, personally, have always suspected that I had a biological trigger in the onset of postpartum psychosis. In fact, the doctor, who correctly diagnosed me with postpartum psychosis, suspected that the fact that I had suffered from spinal meningitis when I was a child, may have been a risk factor for me. That was many years ago but now there is current research that indicates the immune system impacts the onset of postpartum psychosis.

Recent findings published by researchers at Erasmus MC indicate that women, who suffer postpartum psychosis within four weeks of childbirth have a disturbed immune system. The study discovered that during the psychosis the women had an increased number of innate immune cells in their blood although there was no logical explanation for this. When women become pregnant, their immune systems become less active to prevent the unborn child from being rejected. The body has to restore the immune system after childbirth.

According to Veerle Bergink, psychiatrist and researcher: “Healthy postpartum women were found to have other cells activated than women suffering from postpartum psychosis. We had previously shown that an autoimmune thyroid disease is common among women suffering from postpartum psychosis. Altered immune cells appear to play a role in the onset of postpartum psychosis”. The immune cells in the blood hinder the functioning of the brain and may result in a psychosis.

Even back in 2008, the World Health Organization reported that research evidence has shown that risk factors for postpartum (puerperal) psychosis are biological and genetic in nature (see Jones et al., 2001). Stating that psychosocial and demographic factors are probably not major factors in the development of postpartum (puerperal) psychosis (Brockington et al., 1990; Dowlatshahi & Paykel, 1990).

I wish these finding and research would have been available to me back in 1996 when I was struck with the onset of postpartum psychosis. The feelings I had of failure, isolation and that I had done something to cause the illness would have been lessened or put to rest. It is important that research continue to be done in the area of mental health related to childbearing. The health and well-being of pregnant and postpartum women is critical to our society and should be considered a priority.

Sources and Additional Reading:

Disturbed immune system triggers postpartum psychosis

Immune System Dysregulation in First-Onset Postpartum Psychosis

Literature review of risk factors and interventions on
Postpartum Depression

Author's Bio: 

Jennifer has unique insight into mental health as a recovered mom herself. She overcame postpartum psychosis, a life threatening mental illness, which she was struck with when her son was eight weeks old. She has focused her efforts on being a mental health advocate in the area of perinatal mental health in order to help others experiencing mental illness related to childbearing. She strives to increase awareness, education and support of mental health issues related to childbearing. She also focuses on increasing awareness, education and support of mental health issues, in general.

As a Volunteer Area Coordinator for Postpartum Support International, Jennifer has provided emotional, practical and informational support to mothers and families experiencing mental illnesses related to childbearing. Postpartum Support International (PSI) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1987 with the mission to increase awareness, prevention and treatment of mental health issues related to childbearing. Jennifer also has experience as a postpartum support and education consultant, a certified postpartum doula and a speaker on mental health issues.

Jennifer has various media experience including her personal story being published in the February 2002 issue of Glamour Magazine resulting in a guest appearance on CNN’s The Point. She was also interviewed for an article appearing in the December 2002 issue of Psychology Today. Jennifer is a member of the National Perinatal Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health America, The Marcé Society, the National Association of Mothers’ Centers and Postpartum Support International. Jennifer is also a member of the International Association for Women’s Mental Health.

Jennifer holds a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing and has over ten years of professional experience primarily within the healthcare industry.