Pregnancy is a difficult time for most women, as their bodies change and grow, but women with bipolar disorder have a unique set of challenges during and after pregnancy. Changes in medicine, lack of sleep and stress can worsen mood swings associated with bipolar disorder.
A study was recently published in the Journal of Affective Disorders that focused on research from Brown University. Dr. Cynthia Battle, from Alpert Medical School, led the study on the effect of bipolar disorder on pregnant women. “They have increased functional demands at this time,” she said.
Being pregnant means putting the needs of the baby first. Often times, that means having to go without medication that is used to control mood swings. Add the fact that pregnant women get less sleep and experience more stress, and the likelihood of depression and manic episodes increases.
Battle and her team studied the unique challenges facing bipolar pregnant women. Their study involved 334 women from the Woman and Infants Day Hospital Program. 32 of the women had type I, type II or an unspecified mental illness, while the rest of the group experienced depression, anxiety, PTSD or obsessive compulsive disorder.
They found that pregnant bipolar women had a higher risk for self harm. Half of the women had substance abuse history, compared to 27 percent of the remaining women. Likewise, 56 percent of bipolar women had a history of suicide attempts, while only 27 percent of the remaining women had attempted suicide before. After the baby was born, 78 percent of the bipolar women had trouble breastfeeding, while 42.3 percent of the other women had trouble with it.
Their findings show that the normal issues associate with pregnancy and having a newborn baby are heightened when the mother had bipolar disorder.
Bipolar is a mood swing disorder in which people go from depression to mania. 5.7 million Americans suffer from bipolar disorder. Though it is not completely understood yet, it is believed to be genetic. This raises issues with having children, as well. Typical treatment includes anti-psychotic drugs or mood stabilizers, which puts babies at risk for birth defects, including heart defects and developmental delays.
A 2013 study that was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry shows that blood levels drop during pregnancy, lessening the effectiveness of medications. They found women experienced worsened symptoms, according to Dr. Crystal Clark at Northwestern University Feinberg School. Depression was also more common in bipolar pregnant women than the manic symptoms, they found.
Ideally, bipolar women should pre-plan their pregnancy so they can be weaned off of these medications. However, with nearly half of all pregnancies being unplanned, this is not always the case. Not taking medicine can be just as risky for the baby because it can lead the mother to have more stress, the likelihood of drug abuse and poor prenatal care, in general.
Having a healthy pregnancy is possible, despite being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Safer medicine is needed, as well as psychosocial therapy to handle the unique challenges. Getting regular exercise, following a healthy diet and taking prenatal vitamins are especially important for pregnant bipolar women.
By Tracy Rose