Learn about the risk associated with taking anxiety medications while pregnant, including birth defects and minor respiratory problems after delivery.

Article at a Glance:

  • Anxiety is common during pregnancy, yet the safety of anxiety medication varies from one drug to the next.
  • Research shows that benzodiazepines and SSRIs have mild or moderate effects on a pregnancy.
  • Babies can be born addicted to benzodiazepine anxiety medications.
  • Non-drug cognitive behavioral therapy can help expectant mothers cope with anxiety as an alternative to medication.
  • If you find out you are pregnant, do not stop taking an anxiety medication that you currently take without taking to your doctor first.

People often wonder what anxiety meds you can take while pregnant if any. Anxiety can even worsen during pregnancy, which can be a concern for women who are unsure about the safety of certain medications. Overall, the safety of anxiety medications during pregnancy can vary a lot, depending on the specific medication.

For the most part, studies show that anxiety medications including benzodiazepines and serotonin reuptake inhibitors aren’t going to have a huge impact on a baby during pregnancy. There can be some mild effects, based on current research. For example, both benzodiazepines and SSRIs are associated with shorter pregnancies, and babies more likely to require minor respiratory assistance after delivery. Even though some research studies haven’t shown major effects from anxiety medications during pregnancy, that doesn’t mean they’re absolutely safe.

First, benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium and category D drugs according to the FDA. This indicates the FDA believes there is positive evidence of human fetal risk based on studies or investigations. Some benzodiazepines are believed to be linked to fetal effects like a cleft lip and palate, particularly when they’re used during the first trimester, although the risk is fairly low. Something else that needs to be considered is the risk of maternal toxicity stemming from the use of benzodiazepines, and how that could affect the fetus. For example, if a mother takes a benzodiazepine as an anxiety treatment and experiences side effects, the baby may as well. Side effects of benzodiazepine toxicity can include not only breathing problems, but also sedation and floppiness or decreased muscle tone. This is again a relatively low risk but is more common in women who take high doses of benzodiazepines. However, a category D drug may also have more benefits than risks when used during pregnancy for some women. While benzodiazepines are category D, long-term anxiety medications like Prozac and Zoloft are often described as “probably safe.” Tricyclic antidepressants and buspirone may be safe during pregnancy as well.

Babies Born Addicted to Anxiety Medications

Since most anti-anxiety medications fall into two main categories, benzodiazepines and long-term daily treatments like SSRIs, it’s worth looking at both. Babies can be born technically addicted or dependent on both types of medications. With benzodiazepines, if they’re taken near the time of delivery, the baby may experience withdrawal symptoms. Newborn benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms can include breathing problems, muscle weakness, crying, irritability, tremors, jitters, and problems with sleep. These symptoms will usually dissipate after a few weeks. Neonatal withdrawal from benzodiazepine will not typically create any long-term effects. As far as SSRIs, an infant can also experience mild withdrawal symptoms from these anxiety medications. With SSRI withdrawal, infants usually have very mild symptoms that disappear within 48 hours. Most SSRI withdrawal symptoms in infants don’t require medical intervention.

Alternatives to Anxiety Medications While Pregnant

When someone is pregnant and has anxiety, the general medical advice is to try other options for treatment before taking medications. This is true even if an anxiety medicine is considered to be “probably safe.” Some alternatives to anxiety medications while pregnant can include cognitive behavioral therapy or another type of non-drug therapy. Some people may benefit from alternatives like yoga, meditation or massage. Another option would be herbal therapy, although herbs and supplements can be unsafe during pregnancy, so they should also only be taken under medical supervision. If a doctor does determine that the risks of a pregnant woman’s anxiety being untreated are greater than the risks of medication, they will then work to find the right option. Since some options are safer than others, doctors may, for example, recommend an SSRI over a benzodiazepine. If you’re currently using anxiety medication and you’re pregnant, you shouldn’t suddenly stop using it without speaking to your physician first.

If you’re concerned about prescription drugs, or other substances you or a loved one may be taking, we encourage you to reach out to our team at The Recovery Village today.

Related: Taking Anxiety Medications During Breastfeeding: What You Need to Know

If you’re pregnant and looking for healthy ways to manage anxiety, without using potentially harmful medications, the Nobu app can help. It is free and for anyone that is looking to reduce anxiety, work through depression, build self-esteem, get aftercare following treatment, attend teletherapy sessions and so much more. Download the Nobu app today!

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.