Facing Depression During Pregnancy
An important tool in fighting depression during pregnancy, antidepressants can help an expectant mother -- without hurting her unborn baby.
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
The last area of concern comes when a mother gives birth and
decides to breastfeed her baby while on antidepressants. Here, the news is very
"Breastfeeding has been well researched in terms of
antidepressants, "Hendrick tells WebMD. "And the results of research
show that breastfeeding women shouldn't be told they have to stop taking an
antidepressant to breastfeed."
Hendrick explains that babies are very sensitive to their
mothers' moods, and there is a great deal of evidence that suggests a mother's
mood can impact the child.
"The mother should not remain depressed for both her
benefit and the baby's," he says. "Antidepressants can be helpful, and
the exposure to a baby through breast milk is so minute, there is no reason to
not take them if they would be helpful."
Weighing Benefits and Risks
"Have a discussion with your doctor about the risk and
benefits about being on an antidepressant if you are pregnant," says
Epperson. "If you can be off a medication, of course you should be, but if
you can't -- and a lot of women can't -- then antidepressants can
With both psychotherapy and antidepressants, a pregnant woman
can overcome depression and enjoy the birth of her child, and be assured that
the risk that antidepressants pose to her child is small.