Facing Depression During Pregnancy
An important tool in fighting depression during pregnancy, antidepressants can help an expectant mother -- without hurting her unborn baby.
Antidepressants Generally Safe
When the symptoms of depression warrant psychotherapy as well
as antidepressant medication, the good news is that certain drugs can help
treat depression with little to no risk to an unborn child.
"There is no evidence to suggest that taking
antidepressants during pregnancy comes with a risk of congenital defects, and
that's reassuring," says Hendrick. "But it is important to keep in mind
that we cannot say for sure that antidepressants are 100% safe to take during
According to a study published in the American Journal of
Psychiatry, women who took antidepressant drugs throughout their
pregnancies -- both selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as
Prozac and Zoloft and tricyclic antidepressants -- had children with normal
pre-school and early-school development.
Data also suggested that, on the other hand, depressed,
untreated pregnant women and those suffering from long-term depression or
multiple episodes of depression can have children with behavioral problems and
delayed cognitive and language development.
A concern associated with medical treatment of depressed women
during pregnancy is the possible increase risk of premature labor. A review of
medical records showed women treated with SSRIs during pregnancy had a higher
risk of delivering their babies early, before 36 weeks, according to a study
published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
But the women in this study who were treated with another class
of antidepressants known as tricyclics had no increased risk of premature
birth. Researchers stressed the risk associated with SSRIs is not overwhelming
enough to warrant women not take antidepressants if their condition requires
medication. Also reassuring is that the study showed no risk of birth defects
associated with SSRIs.
An additional concern is whether a newborn baby whose mother
took antidepressants during pregnancy will suffer from symptoms of
"While the SSRIs, such as Zoloft, Prozac and Paxil, are
unlikely to cause a major birth defect, several, including Prozac and Paxil,
have been reported to increase the risk of withdrawal symptoms in the newly
born child, especially if they are used in the third trimester," says C.
Neill Epperson, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry and obstetrics/gynecology
at Yale University School of Medicine.
Studies that assessed the risk of SSRIs taken during pregnancy
showed that Paxil could cause withdrawal symptoms, such as jitteriness,
vomiting, and irritability, in infants. But researchers noted the cause of the
symptoms is not entirely clear: They were not able to say definitively whether
the symptoms were a result of withdrawal, the toxicity of the drugs, or another