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 may have crossed your mind.

I see having children 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 to see if it is possible for you. 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. I will be upfront and honest, there 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 the site 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 should NOT be used during pregnancy. If you are currently medicated, you may, most likely, have to stop your medications during the pregnancy or look into an alternate treatment. Also, if you plan on breast-feeding, most medications are not safe to use 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 pregnancy. 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 Pregnancyinfo.netwomen 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:

  • 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 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 appropriate 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, know what to look out for, 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, light some candles, and keep coping skills (such as breathing exercises) close at hand. These are some ways to relax and keep your health and the stress under control.
  • Lastly, some with bipolar may not want to risk their health by becoming pregnant themselves and this is perfectly okay and sometimes even the best route to take depending on the severity of the condition. Sometimes those with bipolar may not be able to be taken off of their medications so they look into other options such as adoption or finding a surrogate.

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 23 years old and I realize I am still young and have some time ahead to really think about having a family. Having children and wondering about my ability to be a good mother and wife has crossed my mind very frequently. I have definitely wanted to be a mom since a very young age, but I have also been 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 have times where I am incredibly selfish where I need (or want) extreme amounts of attention. I am very protective and tend to get jealous easily. I wouldn’t want these issues I struggle with to come between a child and I or make my relationship with a spouse even more complicated. I fear for that. I fear that the relationship between a spouse and I would change drastically and we wouldn’t have the closeness that we do now. I fear that I will lose all sense of comfort and control. I worry that I wouldn’t be able to care for my child and give them the life they deserve. I worry and don’t want my disorder to neglect the child or a spouse. I am also concerned and aware about the risks of my child developing a mood or anxiety disorder. It does worry me, but even with all the concerns revolving around my illness and my relationship, I know that deep down I really want to have a family. I know that being aware of my illness and worries will definitely help me when the time comes. I really think having a child is personal choice even if you struggle with a mental illness. I think anyone with a mental illness has just as much potential to be a great parent as anyone else. 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 very 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 benefit 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. 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 would want my child to be healthy as possible and not have to go through the struggles I have. As of now, I am not even close to be planning for a family, but the thoughts do occasionally cross my mind about living with bipolar and having children.

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17 Comments

  1. This is kind of helpful. I am terrified right now. I am pregnant and coming to terms with the fact that i have bipolar (I convinced myself for a year that that wasn’t true and have become pregnant due to a series of manic episodes that I wasn’t aware were happening). I don’t have a whole lot of family support and my partner may also have bipolar disorder- he’s never been to psych or talked to his doctor about it. On the one hand I think if we work hard enough we can make it work, but on the other hand I’m worried that the situation, our current financial problems, and current lack of support and treatment may make this a very awful decision. I don’t want to at all, but I’m thinking it might be a good idea to look into adoption for the baby. which is scarier than keeping her. :/

  2. This article is sick. No one with bipolar disorder should ever have children. The idea of passing on this horrible disease and playing Russian Roulette with your own children is shameful.

    I have bipolar disorder and I would never even consider putting another human being through the daily hell I live with. And saying it’s ok because some creative people have it and your kid might be extra creative? Just sickening.

    • Whoa, honey. Talk about an overreaction. I am reading this because I am bipolar and this topic has come up recently. I also agree that bearing children when bipolar is not the best idea, but adoption, IVF, or surrogacy is also an option! There’s no reason that a bipolar person who wants a child, has a stable environment, and a firm control over their disorder shouldn’t be able to follow any of these options (including the real deal, reproducing and bearing it). Me personally, I have SO much other crap going on: an abusive childhood (that involves, ironically, an untreated bipolar father), another genetic disorder, live nowhere near family, need lots and lots of alone time and personal space, sensory processing issues, and on and on and on……now I am probably one who for sure doesn’t need to explore any possibility of being a parent, huh? 😀 Now if I can just convince my hubby of that.

    • Wow.. harsh. I had my 3 beautiful children and was diagnosed when my youngest was 4. To say no one with bipolar should have children isn’t really productive.

      Yes it is hard, so hard at times, which is why you absolutely have to have a good support network. I am no longer with their father but my parents are amazing and they have the children if i am in an episode. It’s far from ideal but it is necessary.
      My children are still young yet they know that mummy is sometimes a bit poorly.

      Yes I worry that they will inherit mental health problems, but at least if they do at least i will have an understanding of it and be able to push for the right treatment.

    • I have bipolar. I’m in a happy, healthy, stable, and fulfilling marriage of 8 years and we have a happy, healthy, stable 5 year old boy. You shouldn’t have children…not because you’re bipolar, but because you’re a miserable wretch. You obviously can’t/don’t/won’t take care of yourself, but not all of us are like you.

    • My mom has bipolar disorder, and she is a great mom. Not just that she’s one of the best mom’s out there, and that’s not just me being biased, there are plenty of bad (even horrible) parents out there that don’t have bipolar. It’s your choice not to have a child because of your illness, but don’t you dare say that my mom was irresponsible and shouldn’t have had me. My mom made the decision not to have anymore children because she would have to go off her medication and it would be dangerous for her and the baby, but I really do thank God everyday for giving me such wonderful loving parents. When I was around 7 or 8 she checked herself into an inpatient program because she wanted to get better and be a good mom and wife. I don’t have bipolar but I do have depression and anxiety disorder, but I’ve never blamed my mom or anyone else in my family. Sometimes it’s tough but my mom and I get through it together. What’s sickening is that you’re judging people you don’t know and telling them that they shouldn’t be allowed to have kids, HOW DARE YOU! You probably would be a bad mom and would tell your kids that they shouldn’t have kids of their own one day. Every case is different, even if the child does end up with bipolar there’re are plenty of ways to help them, and I’ll tell you one of the best ways to help them is by having a parent that understands and would do anything to help them. You should no that having a mental illness is not the end of the world.

    • Are you possibly coming out of a major depression or manic episode? I sense a lot of anger in your comment. I also have bipolar disorder and would never wish this upon any other individual or my own children, for that matter. But if it so happens that my future children inherit my disorder, so be it! I can find beauty in my disorder and creative/intellectual advantages that others without the disorder lack. Bipolar disorder is not easy to live with, but if I can survive it, so can my future children. And if they should so suffer with this disorder, I will love them all the same as if they don’t. Should someone with schizophrenia not have children? What about someone with diabetes? Where exactly do you draw the line?

  3. My children are almost all full grown, but I have my youngest still which I had late in life. I never knew what was wrong with me until I found info on bipolar and figured it out. My youngest child I had at 40 before I knew and now she is 11 and it is so hard on me having one that young. If I had known what I know now I would have done things differently. I lore my kids, but years bipolar and no medicines have really done me in.

  4. Great article, Kait. I had my son almost five years before I was diagnosed and I occasionally wonder if I’d have a different choice about becoming a mother if I’d known about my bipolar. But actually, I know the answer now is, ‘I wouldn’t have done – he is my life’s best work!’ Plus I think a medicated mum with bipolar is an OK thing to be. And maybe, just maybe, we bring something extra to their lives by our ability to reflect on what we really are and our desire to work with our deepest, darkest moments (as well as our highs) to get the best out of life.
    The advice you’ve given here is great, real food for thought. Well done – and thank you.

  5. I was taken completely by surprise by my postpartum psychosis episode and subsequent bp diagnosis, but if I’d had this information beforehand I would have been much better off. Excellent job, and best of luck planning for your future family!

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  7. Most of your worries are shared by most women, whatever their diagnosis.

    Since all my daughters were already born, I didn’t have to problem of medication adjustment when pregnant. I thrived in pregnancy; it was one of the most relaxed periods of my life. Long term breastfeeding was also very stabilizing, evening out my moods and reducing my anxiety.The postpartum period is the danger zone. The La Leche League has good resources on drugs while breastfeeding.

    Even if they determined conclusively there was a manic depressive gene and it was identified early enough to have an abortion, people generally think the world would be a poorer place if bipolars were eliminated.

  8. I was diagnosed two years after my daughter was born. Both my husband and I have bipolar but have reached a level of stability. We are decent parents. Our daughter is thriving. She is the bets thing I ever did.

  9. I was extremely fortunate and only was diagnosed with manic depression when I was 40 after I had 4 amazing daughters. None of them have mental health problems. They got the gold in the manic depressive gene–brilliance, passion, creativity.

    I don’t want to boast excessively, but the world would suffer if it lost Katherine R. Hawkins, a well-known human rights lawyer and writer, whose research, edited, and rewrote part of Jane Mayer’s book The Dark Side. She was writing Supreme Court Briefs when she was 30. http://www.constitutionproject.org/staff/hawkins.php. The world would have missed Vanessa Hawkins http://www.linkedin.com/pub/vanessa-wyeth/7/45a/17a and Elizabeth Hawkins http://www.linkedin.com/in/eradcliffe It would have missed, Patricia Hawkins, a high school history and political science teacher who prefers to be unknown.

    I think one inherits a susceptibility to manic depression. I doubt I would ever have developed full-blown symptoms if my dad hadn’t invested me at 12 and I kept it a secret for 28 years. I got sick when he developed Alzheimer’s Disease. My daughters had better parents.

    • Obviously I mean if my dad hadn’t invested me. It is a revealing Feudian ship. It only happened a few times and never happened again. The trauma was I felt responsive. As we were going up the steps of our Catholic Church, he told me, “What I did was very wrong. If I ever try it again, you need to stop me. ” I was closer to my dad than my mom, from which we both hid the secret. He was more invested in my education and my writing.

  10. It’s great that you are thinking it through so well in advance and encouraging others to. I’m currently going through it, and those are some good tips. It can be so amazing but so incredibly challenging. I think it’s been the toughest year and a half of my life, although also wonderful because of my little girl.

    One thing I want to mention is that there are medications that can be used during pregnancy and breastfeeding, even though it doesn’t seem that way if you look online. My psychopharmacologist kept me on Seroquel, and I can’t remember what else. I also met with a specialist in NYC who deals specifically with pregnancy and postpartum who confirmed that my meds were totally fine. My daughter was born perfect.

    The other thing I would suggest to those thinking, is to think of what would happen if you can’t fully care for the baby. In my case, I planned to stop working and care for her full time, but 2011 ended up being one long episode, so I needed to get help. We were not expecting the cost but have thankfully been able to swing a few days child care, and my mother has come to help the other days and bring me to my new treatment since I can’t drive at the moment.

    In no way do I intend to discourage anyone, but just want to share personal experience as we do here, so others can more fully plan. I hope that helps. Nice blog here. I will be back.

    • Thank you for your comment and for sharing your story. I definitely give you tons of credit for what you are going through and sharing it here. I really had no idea that those specific medications could be used during pregnancy, but I know that there are a select few that are okay to be on. I am grateful that you were able to give some more insight and reality on the situation. I wish you the best of luck being a mom and to your future as well. I applaud you for getting treatment and for sharing the extra tips here. That is true strength! Thank you so much 🙂

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