Parenting with bipolar disorder has unique challenges. Your family can thrive with personal health management and open communication.

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Becoming a parent often comes with fears and unknowns. If you live with bipolar disorder, you may have concerns about stigma, caring for your children, and experiencing mood episodes.

Many people with bipolar disorder have healthy, loving relationships and stable family environments. Stability is often achieved through bipolar disorder management and educating loved ones, including children, about the condition.

Language matters

Questioning whether a person with bipolar disorder “can have kids” can lessen the impact of having a disability, which contributes to ableism.

According to the Center for Disability Rights, ableism is a set of beliefs or practices devaluing and discriminating against people with physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disabilities.

Here at Psych Central, we stand against ableism and have chosen to answer the question by focusing on educating, encouraging, and empowering folks with bipolar disorder to healthily manage their condition and parent mindfully.

We also acknowledge gender exists on a spectrum. While we use the terms “women” and “mothers” in this article to reflect the terms historically used for this query, they may not align with your gender. Gender is how you identify and express yourself, independent of your physical body.

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Parenting can be tough for anyone, but living with bipolar disorder can introduce nuances. People with bipolar disorder often have to manage their treatment — including medication and talk therapy — while also caring for a child.

Living with bipolar disorder may also mean managing triggers and buffering mood episodes with therapy and a sound routine.

A 2017 meta-analysis of studies found people with bipolar disorder have more stressful life events before an episode of mania or depression. The paper included giving birth as a stressful life event and found it had a greater chance of causing relapse in people with bipolar disorder than with other mental health conditions, such as major depression.

People with bipolar disorder can be loving and present parents. Even when while living with bipolar disorder, parents can provide the care and attention kids need into adulthood.

A parent with bipolar disorder may have different relationships with their children than people without bipolar disorder, so the family dynamic may be nuanced.

A 2020 review of studies on bipolar disorder and family environments found that parents reported less cohesion in their families than parents of households where mental health conditions weren’t identified.

But the paper also noted that the effect of bipolar disorder on the family environment was not significantly different from that of other mental health diagnoses.

Likelihood of passing on bipolar disorder to children

Family history may play a role in the risk of having bipolar disorder. However, children of people with bipolar won’t always get the condition.

A 2018 review of studies found that there’s a 40% to 70% likelihood that both identical twins will have bipolar disorder if one has it. The same review found a 5% to 10% chance that a child, or sibling of someone with bipolar disorder will also develop the condition (7 times higher than the general population).

A note on genetic predispositions

Your genes play a role in whether you will develop some mental or physical health conditions, but they’re only one piece of the puzzle.

Epigenetics is the study of how the DNA you inherit does or does not manifest in you. This means that any genetic predispositions that run in your family can stay inactive or can even be reversible when signs show up early.

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The review notes, however, that those relatives are actually more likely to develop depression than bipolar disorder, even if they have a close family member with bipolar disorder.

Many people with bipolar disorder are excellent parents. But it’s understandable to experience worry and fear as you embark on a parenting journey. Knowing that others with bipolar disorder share your concerns may help you feel validated.

Bipolar disorder and pregnancy: What to know first

A 2016 study collected the comments of women with bipolar disorder considering pregnancy. These women had many concerns, including:

  • How medication side effects, such as obesity, might increase birth complications
  • That they may experience relapse or a mood episode as a result of pregnancy and birth
  • Facing stigma as mothers living with mental illness
  • Having to bottle feed infants to protect them from bipolar disorder medications such as lithium
  • Coping with lack of sleep while caring for a newborn, which is a known activator for mood episodes

The study participants noted having a supportive family and partner helped ease some of these fears.

There is some evidence that pregnancy doesn’t affect the course of bipolar disorder.

A 2021 study found no difference in the progression of bipolar disorder in pregnant versus nonpregnant women. The study came to this conclusion by analyzing daily mood scores. A 2019 study also found no difference in pregnancy outcomes between women with bipolar disorder and those without.

Still, a 2016 review of studies found that women with bipolar disorder had worse pregnancy outcomes than those without bipolar disorder.

As someone with bipolar disorder, you may want to make the best-informed choices for yourself. As part of that journey, you may want to consider how bipolar disorder symptoms may affect your life as a parent.

For a deeper dive into this topic, you can listen to our podcast: “Inside Bipolar Podcast: Pregnancy Considerations with Bipolar Disorder.”

Symptom: Manic episode agitation

Some people associate agitation with an episode of mania. But a 2018 study of 583 people with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia found agitation was more often experienced internally as:

  • tension
  • restlessness
  • unease

Agitation did occur in this group, with an average of 22 mild episodes yearly.

In this study, about two-thirds of participants could recognize when they experienced agitation or were about to. Many people sought medical attention. Others tried to self-manage by talking with friends, family, their doctor, or by maintaining their medication.

While agitation might be a personal warning sign for a manic episode, it may be helpful to speak with a mental health professional about learning to recognize clinical signs of mania. You may want to explore self-management techniques you can use to balance your experience with your role as a parent.

Symptom: Depressive episode lack of motivation

Bipolar depression can be complex to treat, as the medications for depression and bipolar disorder depression are different. If a patient is given an antidepressant instead of a mood stabilizer, for example, researchers note this can sometimes intensify symptoms, such as when someone has:

As a parent, and as an individual, your self-care is important. If you experience lack of motivation or thoughts of self-harm, consider reaching out to a doctor or the local emergency.

If you’re considering acting on suicidal thoughts, please seek professional support immediately.

Calling or texting a crisis helpline will connect you with a trained counselor 24/7, any day of the year, completely free of charge:

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Having a daily routine can help you increase feelings of motivation when you experience bipolar depression.

Symptom: Leaning into euthymic periods

During a time of euthymia (you-thigh-me-uh), or when you’re not experiencing a mood episode, you may welcome the break from symptoms. During this time, you can also choose to do some critical work as a parent and person managing a mental health condition.

A euthymic state may be when you speak to your child about bipolar disorder. You can also take steps toward bipolar disorder management, like starting a mood journal and making a plan for how others can help if you experience a future mood episode.

Symptom: Psychosis and unforeseen triggers

Sometimes you can’t predict when a mood episode will happen. If you experience psychosis, your family may be an important support system.

Psychosis is when someone with bipolar disorder has:

  • delusions
  • hallucinations
  • false beliefs

Psychosis can be part of a manic state or depressive state. Examples include believing one has special powers or is financially ruined.

As a parent it helps to ensure that you have a mental health crisis plan for times such as these. Talking to your child about Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officers can make the episode less scary and more manageable for them, especially if they don’t have the support of another parent or family member.

It’s a good idea to discuss how to manage crisis episodes with your child. Try to develop a list of individuals to call when this happens so they have the help they need. The list can include not only emergency personnel but friends and family who you trust and who understand your family situation.

People with bipolar disorder can, and do, become caring and responsible parents. It is understandable to have fears and uncertainties entering into pregnancy or a parenting journey. By managing your health and developing crisis plans, you can create a healthy environment for your family to thrive.