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Bipolar disorder in postpartum women: Epidemiology, clinical features, assessment, and diagnosis

Victoria Hendrick, MD
Section Editor
Paul Keck, MD
Deputy Editor
David Solomon, MD


A nationally representative survey of the United States general population estimated that among postpartum women, the 12 month prevalence of bipolar disorder was 2.9 percent [1]. Many postpartum bipolar patients suffer acute mood episodes [2-4], and the risk of episodes in female bipolar patients may be greater during the puerperium than at other times [2,5].

This topic reviews the epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical features, assessment, and diagnosis of postpartum bipolar mood episodes. Treatment of postpartum bipolar disorder, postpartum psychosis, and postpartum unipolar major depression are discussed separately. (See "Bipolar disorder in postpartum women: Treatment" and "Treatment of postpartum psychosis" and "Postpartum unipolar major depression: Epidemiology, clinical features, assessment, and diagnosis".)


Onset of postpartum bipolar mood episodes occurs within a limited time period following birth of a live child. However, there is no established cut-off that separates postpartum-onset episodes from subsequent nonpostpartum episodes [6]; definitions of the puerperium include the following:

The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) defines the postpartum period as the first four weeks following childbirth [7]

For “episodes that are associated with the puerperium,” the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases-10th Revision (ICD-10) requires onset of the episode within six weeks of delivery [8]

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Sep 28, 2017.
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