Navigating bipolar disorder and pregnancy may pose challenges, but it’s possible to do so healthily with the right support.

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Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that affects a person’s mood, causing mood episodes.

The specifics of these effects vary depending on the type of bipolar disorder. The potential effects on a pregnancy or fetus also vary, largely depending on your current management of the disorder and the severity of your symptoms.

Bipolar disorder doesn’t affect a fetus. But the potential medication management tools and some of the complications of bipolar disorder can potentially impact the fetus.

“The increased stress, as well as the change in hormones, can make one susceptible to either an episode of mania or depressive episode,” says Leighya Richard, licensed mental health counselor, perinatal mental health counselor, and certified perinatal mental health professional with the Revive Mental Wellness Group.

Richard suggests ensuring that all aspects of the pregnancy and delivery are discussed with a medical team, including a therapist, psychiatrist, and anyone on your natal or birth and delivery team.

Effects of medication management

When it comes to pregnancy and bipolar disorder, one of the more prominent concerns revolves around the potential medications used for symptom treatment.

The exact effect common medications have on a developing fetus is unclear, but it’s possible they could affect your pregnancy, according to a 2017 review. These medications include:

Some decide to step away from their medications entirely during the conception and nursing stages. In contrast, some may opt to switch their medications to ones with fewer chances of fetal interaction.

For some, continuing a medication plan is the best option for avoiding an acute episode, according to 2008 research.

There is no single correct solution. The best course of action for your medication management is something you and your medical providers can determine collectively.

If you opt to shift or get rid of your medication, you still have options for managing your bipolar disorder symptoms, including varied types of behavioral therapy and support groups.

Effect on nursing

Nursing is another factor to consider when discussing pregnancy with bipolar disorder.

According to the 2017 review mentioned earlier, studies are inconclusive about the potential effects of antidepressants on a nursing infant. Because of this, it’s best to proceed with caution before taking antipsychotics.

Since there is often heavy encouragement to nurse your children instead of using a bottled formula, this consideration may be difficult.

To make the best decision for you and your baby, consider speaking with a doctor about the options you may have around medication management.

Paying close attention to your preexisting symptoms and their fluctuation is important. It’s also important to stay aware of new or alternate symptoms that may or may not be connected to bipolar disorder.

Postpartum depression

Studies suggest that the likelihood of developing the already common postpartum depression is increased for those with bipolar disorder.

Postpartum depression is not the same as clinical depression, even for those who may have been diagnosed with the latter before conception.

This variation of the disorder is more severe than the expected shifts in mood after giving birth. It has the potential to be harmful to both you and your baby if unaddressed.

Signs of postpartum depression include:

  • recurring tearfulness without an explanation
  • feeling disconnected or having negative thoughts about your baby, including intrusive thoughts about causing harm to yourself or your child
  • concerning changes in your relationship with food or sleep
  • withdrawing from friends and family, especially for fear of judgment about your feelings
  • unmanageable mood shifts, including anger or frustration
  • difficulty concentrating or remembering things
  • strong desires to escape from everything

Postpartum psychosis

Bipolar disorder increases the chance of a birthing parent developing postpartum psychosis. This condition is rare and sometimes misdiagnosed as postpartum depression.

Postpartum psychosis is a serious condition that requires immediate attention, as symptoms include:

  • severe mania or depression, usually starting within 2 or 3 days to 2 weeks after birth
  • hallucinations
  • delusions
  • acting out of character
  • suspicion or fear
  • depression, mania, or a mix of the two resulting in rapidly changing mood
  • low inhibition or restlessness

Postpartum psychosis can worsen quickly and pose a substantial threat to both the parent and the baby.

Baby pinks

Richard also discusses the presence of postpartum euphoria, also known as baby pinks, which is a play on the phrase “baby blues.”

Euphoria is described as a spontaneous but exceptional feeling of being “high,” elated, or physically or emotionally exceptional.

It could feel counterintuitive to take positive feelings as cause for concern. Still, any jarring or unprompted shifts in mood are worth paying attention to and bringing to your physician.

Since euphoric feelings are common during periods of hypomania, which is a diagnosable facet of bipolar disorder, it’s important to take these experiences seriously.

Sleep schedules

Babies and their likelihood of inconvenient sleep schedules are a well-known fact.

Because sleep hygiene is important in bipolar disorder symptom management and the prevention of episodes, this can feel counterproductive.

It is not impossible to navigate a hungry baby and bipolar disorder. But it does mean that ensuring quality sleep might need to be at the top of your self-care list. This is especially true if you’ve noticed symptoms have increased after a period of poor sleep.

Non-birthing partners with bipolar disorder

Richard suggests that both parents should remain aware of triggers and signs of episodes when pregnancy is involved.

You may consider talking with your therapist or doctor about how you can continue to support both yourself and your partner, especially if this is your first child.

“Non-birth giving parents with bipolar disorder need to be aware of their early signs or red flags of an acute episode. Continuing self-care activities including taking their medication, continuing therapy, adequate sleep, and nutrition can mitigate the risk of relapse,” Richard says.

Richard also speaks about the importance of informal support for both parents. Help from those you trust can act as stabilizing factors for all new parents, especially those navigating bipolar disorder.

You may receive this support from:

  • friends
  • family
  • support groups
  • the presence of a birth doula

While a bipolar disorder diagnosis calls for increased intentionality around conception, it does not mean that prospective parents with the disorder should discard their dreams.

More than one aspect of your condition and its management factor into how you can navigate your pregnancy and the postpartum period. Try to stay connected to your medical team for guidance and support.

The non-birthing parent’s well-being is also an important consideration since both parents are known to experience hormonal shifts regardless of who’s carrying, according to a 2010 study.

Because of this, added stress and shifted sleep schedules can be a potential point of concern for either parent.

You can build your support network from the beginning by:

  • joining support groups
  • connecting with a postpartum doula experienced with varied mental health disorders
  • staying connected to your friends and family