Pregnancy and Antidepressants
Pregnancy and Antidepressants: Understanding the Risks continued...
Reported risks for the baby include:
- Persistent pulmonary hypertension in the newborn (PPHN), a serious condition of the blood vessels of the lungs.
- Heart defects.
- Birth defects, including anencephaly (affecting the spinal cord and brain), craniosynostosis (affecting the skull), omphalocele (affecting the abdominal organs), and limb malformation.
- Preterm birth (being born before 37 weeks gestation).
- Low birth weight (being born less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces).
In addition, at least one study showed that babies exposed to antidepressants in the womb experienced withdrawal symptoms, such as:
- Breathing problems
- Trouble feeding
- Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
- Poor tone
Some required a short stay (one to four days) in the neonatal intensive care unit. None of these symptoms caused any long-term harm to the baby.
The long-term impact of antidepressant exposure on development and behavior is still unclear. But, studies have not found a significant difference in IQ, behavior, mood, attention, or activity level in children who were exposed to antidepressants in the womb.
Pregnancy and Untreated Depression
Left untreated, depression can have far reaching effects on both your and your baby’s health. Women who are depressed are less likely to take proper care of themselves. For instance, they may not eat a healthy diet or may skip doctors’ appointments. Plus, women who are depressed may be more likely to take part in risky behaviors, such as drinking alcohol, smoking, or taking drugs during pregnancy. All of these actions can lead to potentially serious health problems for the baby, including miscarriage, preterm birth, and low birth weight.
Untreated depression can also take a toll on family dynamics. That includes your relationship with your spouse and other children. If you have older kids, they need you to care for them. For some pregnant women, regardless of their mental state, it can take all the energy they have to care for themselves. Add depression to the mix, and the suffering can become intolerable for everyone. If depression is preventing you from caring for your family, you may need to stay on your antidepressants during this vulnerable time.
Antidepressants and Pregnancy: Keeping Risks in Perspective
It‘s important to keep the risks associated with antidepressant use in pregnancy in perspective. All pregnant women have an average 3% risk of having a baby with any type of birth defect in most cases. When researchers say antidepressants may increase the risk of certain birth defects, they are talking about just a slight increase. For example, one study showed that antidepressants increased the risk that the baby would be born with PPHN by 1%. So, even if you take an antidepressant during pregnancy, the overall risk of your baby having a problem is still very low. Other studies showed different levels of risk associated with antidepressants and PPHN, and 1% is on the high end. So the risk may be even lower.