Taking Anti-Depressants While Pregnant: Is It Safe?

antidepressant pillsWhen you find out you're pregnant, the moment is supposed to be one of the most joyful of your life. But it can also be nerve-wracking for many reasons. Women who have depression have long worried about research that has warned antidepressant use could negatively impact the baby's development. But does that mean a mom-to-be should stop taking them altogether upon learning she's expecting?

"There's no right or wrong answer," explains reproductive psychiatrist Judy Greene, M.D., director of women's health at Bellevue Medical Center in New York.

Here, the specifics:


"It's a very individualized decision," Dr. Greene explains. "[But] untreated anxiety and depression affects the mom and developing fetus' well-being."

That said, the risk of harm from untreated depression needs to be weighed against the potential risks associated with drugs to the baby. As for those, Dr. Greene notes that SSRI exposure has been associated with slight increased risk of pre-term birth, a 20 percent risk of neonatal distress syndrome in infants (which can last a few days up to a week), and increased risk of a serious lung problem known as persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn.

antidepressants pregnancyDr. Greene's advice? "For women who had severe episodes of depression -- meaning suicide attempts, psychiatric episodes, recurrent episodes where they weren't able to go off their antidepressants -- I would say it makes sense to stay on them," she says. "For mild to moderate symptoms of depression or anxiety, you could work with a mental health clinician to taper off the SSRIs and to optimize psychotherapy." Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one method that has been shown to be especially effective at treating anxiety disorders and depression. Dr. Greene also recommends optimizing sleep, nutrition, exercise, and even light therapy. Studies have shown positive effects in depressed women exposed to a specific frequency of light (10,000 lux) for 30-60 minutes in the morning. "And these aren't necessarily women who have had seasonal depression," Dr. Green adds.

Ultimately, the decision for any woman to continue or change her antidepressant medication is up to her and her health care provider. women should work with their health care providers to closely monitor their symptoms before, during, and after pregnancy. And if possible, planning ahead is best. "Talk to your doctor six months before you get pregnant," advises Draion "Dr. Drai" Burch, D.O., OB/GYN at Magee-Womens Hospital of The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "He or she can look up the drug profile for the medication that you are taking to better discuss your future baby’s risk."

For more information or support, you can check out Mass General Hospital Center for Women's Mental Health or Postpartum Support International.

Would you take antidepressants while pregnant? Why or why not?


Images via stevensnodgrass/Flickr (top) and randomliteraturecouncil/Flickr (bottom)

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