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Facing Depression During Pregnancy

An important tool in fighting depression during pregnancy, antidepressants can help an expectant mother -- without hurting her unborn baby.
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Withdrawal Problems?

An additional concern is whether a newborn baby whose mother took antidepressants during pregnancy will suffer from symptoms of withdrawal.

"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 unknown factor.

Breastfeeding Concerns

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 promising.

"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 help."

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.

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