For nearly a quarter of new moms, these hormonal shifts lead to post-partum depression — a debilitating anxiety disorder that can make women feel sad, worthless, hopeless, guilty or anxious.
However, some new moms have the exact opposite post-partum experience — they’re overjoyed, energized by only a few hours of sleep and extremely productive.
This is known as post-partum euphoria — clinically referred to as a state of hypomania — and although it sounds like a positive side effect to giving birth, it’s actually very dangerous.
Few studies have been done on the phenomenon, but current research suggests that 10 to 20 per cent of women may have significant symptoms of hypomania within the first few days of delivery.
Although the condition may not seem dangerous initially, it can become riskier over time.
“If a mother develops more severe symptoms of mania, she may begin to engage in risky behaviour, not appreciating the consequences of her actions, or believe that she has special powers or abilities,” Dr. Lori Wasserman, psychiatrist and lead of the Reproductive Life Stages Program at Women’s College Hospital, told Global News.
According to Wasserman, post-partum euphoria is especially menacing because it can present as a new mom who is simply coping well with her new stage of life.
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“The mother may actually appear to be coping well with abundant energy,” she said. “However, if euphoria develops into irritability, the mother’s emotional availability and attunement to the baby could be compromised.”
Also concerning is the fact that a state of hypomania can be followed by a depressive episode.
“In fact, one study found that women who had an elevated mood in the first week following delivery had higher depression scores at eight weeks post-partum,” said Wasserman.
How it’s diagnosed
A lack of sleep, “feeling like you’re on Cloud 9” and near-dangerous levels of productivity can all indicate a state of hypomania.
The symptoms can worsen quickly so it’s important that any new mom who notices strange behaviour sees a doctor as soon as possible.
“I don’t want people to panic, but it’s a very lethal condition… the risk of suicide is very high,” said Dr. Christine Korol, a registered psychologist at the Vancouver Anxiety Centre.
“If you feel like you don’t need sleep, or you’re not sleeping for days or you’re starting to do some bizarre things, you want to go to a doctor right away.”
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After reporting your symptoms to your doctor, you will likely be sent to a psychologist or psychiatrist for a psychological evaluation.
“They’ll take medical history as well as your family history,” said Korol. “They’ll also listen to family members if they’re able to come and give collateral information about your post-partum behaviour.”
Moms who have a family history of bipolar or other mood disorders are more susceptible to developing post-partum euphoria after birth.
“It can bring about significant mood symptoms in those that have an underlying genetic vulnerability,” Wasserman said.
“Doctors look for the presence of… an elevated or euphoric mood, increased talkativeness, racing thoughts, grandiosity, decreased need for sleep, increased activity and distractibility.”
If post-partum euphoria is diagnosed, medication to help with “mood stability and sleep” will likely be prescribed.
Korol says that for women who have an increased risk of developing post-partum euphoria, there’s even the option to begin preventive medication during pregnancy.
“If you’re showing signs while you’re pregnant… there are drugs you can take while you’re still pregnant for both you and the baby,” she said.
A call for increased awareness
As the medical community turns its attention to post-partum depression, post-partum euphoria is falling behind.
“It’s very under-diagnosed… clinicians don’t know as much as they should about it,” said Korol. “Although the prevalence is relatively lower, the consequences are pretty severe.”
She believes there should be regular screening for post-partum euphoria in the same way there is for post-partum depression.
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The latter is currently diagnosed using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), a survey that identifies symptoms of depression in new moms. There is no equivalent for post-partum euphoria.
Increased awareness will not only benefit doctors and the process of diagnosis but help families recognize the signs and symptoms faster, Korol added.
“We want families to understand what it is and to know that there’s treatment,” she said.
“You want it treated because the longer you leave it, the more damage that’s done to the brain.”
—With files from Arti Patel
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