What You Need to Know About Taking Antidepressants While Pregnant
Is It Safe to Take Antidepressants While Pregnant?
Antidepressants are prescription medications used to treat not only depression but other conditions such as anxiety. Antidepressants affect certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, and there are different categories of antidepressants. One of the most commonly prescribed types of antidepressant is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor or an SSRI. SSRIs are usually the first-line treatment for depression, and some of the generic SSRIs include citalopram, fluoxetine, and sertraline. There are also serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and atypical antidepressants which include bupropion and trazodone. Tricyclic antidepressants aren’t used very often because of the side effects. So, can you take antidepressants while pregnant? It’s estimated that around eight percent of women in the U.S. used antidepressants during pregnancy. Despite this figure, it isn’t necessarily always safe to use antidepressants while pregnant. Whether or not it’s safe to take antidepressants while pregnant can depend on the specific medication and the individual.
It is possible some antidepressants can cause complications and birth defects. There are hardly any medications that are considered absolutely safe during pregnancy, and this is true with antidepressants as well. The risk of the following effects is low, but may occur if someone takes antidepressants while pregnant:
- Pulmonary hypertension in newborns
- Heart defects
- Birth defects including anencephaly and omphalocele
- Preterm birth, which means a baby is born before 37 weeks
- Low birth weight
- Low Apgar scores
There are different levels of risk depending on the specific type of antidepressant a pregnant woman is prescribed to take. For example, SSRIs are considered generally safe during pregnancy, but can still lead to complications like heavy bleeding right after birth and low birth weight. Most SSRIs aren’t associated with birth defects. SNRIs may be an option during pregnancy but can be associated with postpartum heavy bleeding or hemorrhaging. Tricyclic antidepressants aren’t a first-line option for depression even in people who aren’t pregnant. Tricyclic antidepressants can be associated with fetal birth defects, such as heart defects. The use of Paxil is almost always discouraged during pregnancy because of its association with fetal heart defects. MAOIs are also not often advised for use during pregnancy.
Despite the potential risks of taking antidepressants while pregnant, untreated depression can have its own set of negative effects. When a woman has untreated depression, she’s less likely to take care of herself while pregnant. This could mean not getting proper nutrition, or even engaging in risky behaviors such as drinking while pregnant. Some of the risks of not taking care of oneself while pregnant or engaging in risky behaviors can include miscarriage and preterm birth. According to the March of Dimes, untreated depression during pregnancy can also lead to a newborn being more irritable, and less responsive than a baby born to a mother without depression during pregnancy. Some people find that depression first appears or worsens while they’re pregnant. Also, if depression isn’t properly treated during pregnancy, it can increase the likelihood of postpartum depression.
Can babies be born addicted to antidepressants? In some cases, when a mother has regularly used antidepressants during pregnancy, the baby may experience withdrawal symptoms after birth. This is especially true when mothers used antidepressants during their last trimester. Some of the symptoms of withdrawal from antidepressants can include irritability, poor feeding, and respiratory disturbances. These symptoms can last for up to a month after a baby is born.
If a woman is already taking antidepressants and becomes pregnant, her physician will likely do a few things. First, the medical professional will probably weigh the benefits of the woman continuing the medication versus the potential risk. A physician might find that it’s best for the pregnant woman to start using a different antidepressant with a lower risk of side effects. For a woman with mild depression, a physician might recommend she stop using the medication altogether during pregnancy, although this should only be done under medical guidance.
If someone is advised by her doctor to stop using antidepressants, alternatives might be suggested. This can include changes in behavior and lifestyle, such as exercise, yoga or meditation. Support groups can be something recommended for a pregnant woman with mild depression. For severe cases of depression, something called electroconvulsive therapy might be recommended. Also called ECT, this is a treatment where an electric current is passed through the brain. This is a treatment that’s considered safe during pregnancy, and often effective for very severe cases of depression. A physician or medical professional might also recommend natural or herbal supplements or certain vitamins, and counseling may be an option as well.
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