Understanding the Risks of Taking Antidepressants during Pregnancy

Roughly 6% of pregnant women in the United States take some form of antidepressant medication to treat depression. Recent studies show that taking some common antidepressants poses a risk to both the baby and the expectant mother. Of course, deciding to discontinue antidepressant medication comes with its own set of risks, especially if the depression being treated is sever.

Pregnant women who are also dealing with depression face an unenviable decision of whether to continue treatment or to forego antidepressant medications. No one is suggesting that there is one, across the board answer that is right for every woman who struggles with depression. Still, it’s important for pregnant women to understand the pros and cons of any medication they take, including antidepressants.

One recent study focused on a particular kind of antidepressant: SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). This class of antidepressant drug includes Paxil and Prozac.

Common risks associated with taking SSRIs during pregnancy include:

  • Significant increase in the risk of preeclampsia/ high blood pressure
  • Lower birth weights
  • Delayed growth of the baby’s head
  • Delayed brain development

Delayed head growth and brain development have been shown to be linked to psychiatric and behavioral problems later in the child’s life.

In considering the potential risk of continuing to take SSRIs during pregnancy, it’s important to also consider the risks of stopping medical treatment. Women with severe depression should generally not stop taking SSRIs during pregnancy, as the risk of suicide or harming the child (before or after birth) are considered greater than the risks posed by the SSRIs.

Even women who have mild depression symptoms should be cautious about discontinuing medical treatment. If you do decide to forego antidepressant medication, make sure that your doctor or mental health professional is aware of your decision. It will be important to have open and honest communication with your mental health professional during this time, especially if your depression symptoms worsen.

As your pregnancy comes close to term, it’s important to talk with your doctor about your potential for postpartum depression. Women who have suffered depression before or during pregnancy are more likely to experience postpartum depression as well. Your health care professional can give you sound advice regarding how to deal with and treat your depression, both during and after pregnancy.

How have you dealt with pregnancy during depression?


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