The Truth About Taking Antidepressants During Pregnancy
By Ronald Librizzi, DO, Virtua Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist
When you’re pregnant, it’s normal to worry about how your diet, activity level and environment will affect your baby. And if you’re taking an antidepressant while pregnant, you may be especially concerned about your baby’s safety.
Although many expectant moms believe that they need to stop taking all medications during pregnancy, this isn’t true. Stopping the use of health-sustaining medications such as antidepressants, or reducing your dosage, can have serious consequences for some expectant moms.
Suddenly stopping the use of antidepressants without medical supervision can cause your mental health-related symptoms to return. In addition, expectant moms also may experience worse-than-normal antidepressant withdrawal symptoms that range from unpleasant to dangerous, including:
- Electric shock-like sensations
- Flu-like symptoms, such as muscle aches and chills
- Irritability or mood changes
- Nausea and vomiting
It’s also important to note that the benefits of taking an antidepressant during pregnancy often outweigh the minimal risks to the baby.
Balancing risks and benefits
Since no medication has been tested on a pregnant woman, researchers can’t be sure that any medication is completely safe for use during pregnancy. However, medical providers have access to information and studies performed after medications are on the market that provide data on whether they are safe for expectant moms.
Medical providers typically recommend that expectant moms avoid taking medications that are new on the market. That’s because new medications haven’t been used or studied widely enough among pregnant women to generate findings about whether they’re safe.
Because taking any medication during pregnancy always poses some level of risk, health care providers aim to balance those risks with the benefits of taking the medication. The bottom line is that if an expectant mom isn’t doing well, the unborn baby won’t do well, either. And, an untreated mental health condition can pose a health risk that’s as serious, or more serious, than the possible side effects of taking an antidepressant.
Low risks for antidepressants
It’s true that some medications such as isotretinoin (Accutane or Claravis) and thalidomide (Thalomid) can cause serious birth defects. But, when it comes to antidepressants, the risk of birth defects is very low. In the general population, the risk of birth defects is between 3-5 percent regardless of medication exposure during pregnancy. Although prenatal antidepressant use may slightly increase the risk of birth defects, it doesn’t increase it significantly.
Additionally, an unborn baby is almost fully formed during the first 10 weeks of a pregnancy. Taking antidepressants after the 10th week of pregnancy won’t cause deformity.
A team approach to treatment
If you’re pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, talk to your prenatal care provider about your antidepressant regimen, as well as with the provider who’s prescribing the medication. Your providers will conduct a complete assessment of your condition and help you to weigh the benefits and risks associated with taking an antidepressant.
If you have concerns about the safety of your unborn baby but need to continue taking antidepressants, talking to your doctor can give you peace of mind. He or she can switch you to a different medication with a lower risk or even lower your dose if necessary.
The most important thing you can do for your baby during your pregnancy is to keep yourself physically and mentally healthy. Having a healthy baby while taking an antidepressant is probable, but be sure to work with your prenatal care provider and your mental health provider to weigh the benefits and risks.
Learn more about managing depression during and after pregnancy, or call 1-888-VIRTUA-3 to connect with a Virtua OB/GYN.
Updated December 4, 2018