Bipolar Disorder and Having Children

If you are still rather young and you have a mental illness such as bipolar disorder, the ability to have children and become a mother/father may have crossed your mind.

I’ve seen this topic up for debate many times, but I see it as a personal choice and it also depends highly on the individual’s health. If you or your spouse has bipolar disorder and would like to have children, it is definitely something you both should look into and talk about with your doctors. I don’t see any reason why someone with the disorder should not be allowed or should not be able to have a child unless some medical factors lay in that may affect your health negatively.  With having a diagnosis such as bipolar disorder, there may be some concerns you have about having children.

Here are several factors I see to consider before just going about it:

  1. Have a plan. When you have bipolar disorder, it is a very important and beneficial to your health to plan ahead with your spouse and doctors before becoming pregnant.
  2. Bipolar disorder is genetic. The disorder can be passed down from parent to child, but that does NOT mean your child will necessarily develop the disorder. It’s a chance. According to ScienceDaily, “children of parents with bipolar disorder had an increased risk of having a bipolar spectrum disorder (41 or 10.6 percent vs. two or 0.8 percent) and having any mood or anxiety disorder. Children in families where both parents had bipolar disorders also were more likely than those in families containing one parent with bipolar disorder to develop the condition (four of 14 or 28.6 percent vs. 37 of 374 or 9.9 percent); however, their risk for other psychiatric disorders was the same as offspring of one parent with bipolar disorder.”
  3. Most medications that treat bipolar are not considered safe during pregnancy. If you are currently medicated, you may, most likely, have to stop your medications during the pregnancy or look into an alternative treatment such as a different dosage or different medication altogether. Also, if you plan on breast-feeding, some medications are not safe to take during that time. You may have to seek out other options or plan ahead with your doctor.
  4. Expect or prepare for possible extreme body and mood changes during and after giving birth.Pregnancy changes a woman’s body drastically during pregnancy due to hormone changes, increase in blood, emotions, and the overall mental and physical well-being bipolar or not. This can disrupt and often make the bipolar illness worsen due to all the chemical, hormonal, and bodily changes during and after pregnancy. It is very important to take extra care of yourself and keep in touch with your doctors and a therapist.You may have heard about postpartum depression before and that is good – It’s good to be aware of this condition and be conscious of any changes you may notice within your body. Postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis is possible, but not a definite outcome. This may be a risk to talk to your partner and doctor about before deciding if having children is for you. According to PubMed Health, “Postpartum depression is moderate to severe depression in a woman after she has given birth. It may occur soon after delivery or up to a year later. Most of the time, it occurs within the first 3 months after delivery.” From, women who have a family history of psychosis, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia have a greater chance of developing the disorder. Additionally, women who have had a past incidence of postpartum psychosis are between 20% and 50% more likely of experiencing it again in a future pregnancy.”
  5. Children, especially young infants, require a lot of attention and your time. Children need a lot of attention and a positive role model. There are some, but definitely not all, that may not realize just how much attention they require and how important it is to be a great role model to their children. I am not saying that those who have bipolar disorder can’t be good parents, give them the attention they need, or be a great role model. Those with bipolar disorder, like I have said before, can be just as good of parents as any other person out there. It just takes the right situation, precautions, support (spouse, family, doctors, etc), and extra time planning ahead. When you have an illness such as bipolar disorder, it is common for the illness to interfere with one’s daily lives consisting of alternating moods, symptoms/behaviors, and emotions. The illness can consume a lot of one’s time and take out a lot of energy in one’s life. Some days it may feel as if there is no escape from the symptoms. A lot of personal space and down time is often necessary for those who live with bipolar and it’s often difficult to put others needs before one’s own. When it comes to children, they need and depend on you everyday. It may be quite strenuous when trying to take care of another person when you’re in need of some personal space to cope and regroup. Something to consider would be to figure out a plan how it will be possible to take care of a child, but also cope with the disorder.

Essential tips if you are planning to have children:

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  • First, make sure your health is stable and under control. Talk with your spouse and doctor about medications, what to expect, and how to take care of yourself and the child.
  • Second, have a working, successful plan. Make sure you plan out before you become pregnant and also for during and after the pregnancy. Always keep communication open – talk to your spouse and doctors frequently. Note any changes, even minor ones and report them back to your doctor and spouse. Also, have more than one plan if possible. This will increase your chances for a safer pregnancy and health if one plan ends up not working or something happens to change.
  • As with any person before a pregnancy, consider your health, relationship, decide and plan on successful ways to cope around your child, and your overall feelings towards becoming a parent. Make sure you and your spouse are both ready and can support each other. Prepare for the worst, but don’t expect it or worry about it. Just be prepared and keep an open mind.
  • Create ways you can minimize stress and relax. Remaining stress-free as possible and being relaxed is also very important. For example; Get plenty of rest, take breaks as needed, listen to soothing music, take a warm bath, and keep coping skills (breathing exercises, therapy, journaling) close at hand. These are some ways to relax and keep your health and the stress under control.

Bipolar Disorder requires a lot of support, knowledge, and understanding. It is a plus if you and your spouse are aware of your symptoms, triggers, and frequency of episodes. Knowing and being aware of this can be a great help before planning a pregnancy.

From a personal point of view on the topic:

I am currently a mother to three beautiful girls, but before I became a mom, having children and wondering about my ability to be a good mother and wife crossed my mind frequently. I have definitely wanted to be a mom since a very young age, but I was also unsure when in times of depression and despair. I know at times my bipolar disorder completely takes control over my life and I can feel as though everything is out of my hands. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to care for my child and give them the life they deserve. I worried and didn’t want my disorder to neglect the child or a spouse. I was also concerned and aware about the risks of my child developing a mood or anxiety disorder. It still does worry me honestly, but even with all the concerns revolving around my illness and my relationship, I know that deep down I really wanted to have a family. I knew that being aware of my illness and anxiety would definitely help me when the time came. I really think having a child is personal choice regardless if you struggle with a mental illness or not. I think anyone with a mental illness has just as much potential to be a great parent as anyone else does. Every parent, no matter who you are, will make mistakes and that is also something to keep in mind too. I also know that it is important to be healthy first and ready for anything that may need to be faced later and that may even mean waiting a bit longer if the time isn’t right at that moment.

One thought that keeps me going is if bipolar is passed down to my child, I would have the understanding of what they are going through. I would be able to relate to and understand my child and I would be more aware of signs to look out for that others might not. I know there are some parents that would love to understand their children and what they are going through better. I think this can be a fantastic benefit, but ultimately I want my child to be as healthy as possible and not have to endure the struggles I have.

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