Motherhood and schizophrenic illnesses: a review of the literature


  • Peter Bosanac,

  • Anne Buist,

  • Graham Burrows

Peter Bosanac, Consultant Psychiatrist and Lecturer (Correspondence); Anne Buist, Associate Professor; Graham Burrows, Professor and Director

Austin and Repatriation Medical Centre and Department of Psychiatry, The University of Melbourne. Correspondence: Department of Psychiatry, Level 10, Lance Townsend Building, Austin Campus, Austin and ­Repatriation Medical Centre, Studley Road, Heidelberg, Victoria 3084, Australia. Email:


Objective:  To provide an overview of the current knowledge on the impact of motherhood on women with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.

Method:  The published literature was selectively reviewed and assessed, based on a complete MEDLINE and PsychLIT (1971 to current) search, including English and non-English journals and books.

Results:  Research to date into motherhood and schizophrenic illnesses has been limited by a number of methodological constraints, limiting the ability to draw conclusions and the prevention of relapses and mother-infant difficulties. These constraints have included: a paucity of prospective studies with initial, antenatal recruitment; variable definitions of the length of the puerperium; significant changes in psychiatric classification; the heterogeneity of postpartum psychotic disorders, with the majority being mood or schizoaffective disorder rather than schizophrenia; selection biases inherent in studying mother-baby unit inpatients; difficulties in life events research in general, such as its retrospective nature and confounding, illness factors; and the specificity versus non-specificity of childbirth as a unique or discrete life event.

Conclusions:  Further study is required to explore: the impact of child care, parenting and having a partner on the course of women with schizophrenic and schizoaffective disorders during the first postpartum year; whether women with postpartum relapses of these mental illnesses are likely to have slower recoveries than those women with the same diagnoses but without young children; and protective factors against postpartum relapse.