What is depression?
Depression is an illness that
makes you feel sad and hopeless for much of the time. It is different from
normal feelings of sadness or low energy. It can have a very big effect on your
life, your work, your health, and the people you care about. Many pregnant
women struggle with depression.
What are the risks of taking antidepressants while you are pregnant?
There are several types of antidepressant medicine.
Some types are less likely to harm your baby than others. More research is
needed before doctors can say for sure that any antidepressant is completely
safe for the baby.
For pregnant women, doctors may choose
SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), such
as Zoloft or Prozac, or
research is needed. One recent study found that babies whose mothers took SSRIs
during the second half of their pregnancies were more likely to have a rare but
serious breathing problem.1
The U.S. Food
and Drug Administration (FDA) has sent out a warning on the drug Paxil
(paroxetine), an SSRI. Taking Paxil during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy may
increase a woman's chance of having a baby with a birth defect. But for some
women who have already been taking Paxil, the benefits of continuing may be
greater than the potential risk to the baby. Talk to your doctor if you are
taking Paxil and are thinking about getting pregnant.
You may have
side effects from SSRIs or tricyclics, but they usually go away within the
first few weeks. Common side effects include stomach upset, loss of appetite,
diarrhea, feeling anxious or on edge, sleep problems, drowsiness, loss of
sexual desire, and headaches.
If you were taking antidepressants
at the end of your pregnancy, your newborn may need to stay in the hospital for
a few extra days. This is so that doctors can watch for signs of drug
withdrawal. These signs sound scary, but they are usually mild and go away in a
few days. They include mild breathing problems, crying more than is usual,
having trouble feeding, or in rare cases having seizures. If you are worried
about this, talk to your doctor about gradually stopping your medicine a week
or two before your due date.
What are the risks of NOT taking antidepressants?
When depression is not treated during pregnancy, it can harm both mother
and child. People who are depressed may not eat well or get enough sleep. They
are more likely to smoke and drink. They may think about killing themselves.
Pregnant women who are depressed are less likely to go to the doctor as often
as they should. A depressed woman is more likely to deliver early and to have a
baby that weighs less than it should.2
Women who have depression during pregnancy and don't treat it are also
more likely to have postpartum depression after the birth. Postpartum
depression makes it hard to care for and bond with your baby. Babies of
depressed mothers may be slower in some areas.3
Never stop taking an antidepressant suddenly. If you have been taking
medicine to treat depression and find out you are pregnant, talk to your
doctor. If you decide to stop taking the medicine, you will need to lower your
dose slowly, with your doctor's help.
What other treatment is available?
Counseling is an important part of treatment for
depression. If you have only mild depression, counseling alone may be enough to
help you feel better.
which involves sitting in front of a special light box for about 30 minutes
every day, can help people with seasonal affective disorder, also called the
"winter blues." Recent studies suggest that light therapy may help with
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