Does Taking Antidepressants During Pregnancy Harm Your Baby?

It’s one of the many age-old arguments during pregnancy – should expectant mothers take antidepressants?  

As of April 2018, it was recorded that 9 out of 10 American women take medicine during pregnancy, with approximately 5% of those women taking antidepressants, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) such as Paroxetine, Sertraline and Citalopram.

Before turning to antidepressants, what should soon-to-be mothers be considering? Here’s what is currently known...

Recognizing Depression

Depression during pregnancy (also known as antepartum depression) can sometimes go unnoticed due to many women attributing their feelings to hormones. Therefore, it’s very important to be able to decipher the difference between depression and the "baby blues."

Common early signs of depression, particularly if experienced for longer than two consecutive weeks, include:

  • Changes in eating habits
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities usually enjoyed
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of sadness or guilt

If an expectant mother is experiencing some of the above signs a doctor should be consulted for further guidance.

The Effect of Antidepressants on Newborns

Until recently it's mostly been believed that only short-term symptoms were recognized in newborns as a result of their mother’s use of antidepressants. Most symptoms were mild, including irritability and fast breathing, and usually passed within two weeks.

However, according to a recent study by JAMA Paediatrics, the use of SSRI among mothers could potentially interfere with fetal brain development, particularly in areas of the brain associated with emotions.

While this research introduces a new perspective on antidepressants for expectant mothers and medical professionals, the study is only preliminary and isn’t necessarily reason enough for expectant mothers to stop using SSRIs.

The JAMA Paediatrics research is one of the few studies which present detailed potential harmful effects of taking antidepressants during pregnancy; this is because researchers aren’t allowed to conduct in depth investigations on expectant mothers.

Instead, many other reports are supported purely by observational research, looking at the connection between women on antidepressants and the health outcomes of newborns.

Alternative options

Available alternatives for pregnant women primarily look at methods of relaxation and distraction, including:

  • Psychotherapy: Interpersonal psychotherapy focuses on how to improve moods by interacting with others. It’s a highly structured and timely approach scheduled across approximately 12 weeks to assist in resolving interpersonal problems or symptomatic recovery.
  • Acupuncture and massage: Both acupuncture and massage have been proven to ease the physical discomfort women experience during pregnancy and therefore focus on improving moods. Many workshops also offer to teach women how to practice progressive muscle relaxation at home to lower levels of anxiety.

Is it Safe to Take Antidepressants?

As there’s no evidence suggesting antidepressants will put newborns in major harm, it can’t be proven they aren’t safe. Doctors typically prefer for women with depression to seek treatment, as it’s more dangerous for the mother and baby to to leave those with moderate or severe depression untreated.

If experiencing signs of depression, consult with a doctor for further information on the most suitable next step.

6/7/2018 7:00:00 AM
Dr. Ryan Harvey
Written by
Dr Ryan Harvey is the Assistant Medical Director at House Call Doctor. Dr Harvey is highly experienced in paediatrics and has administered medical care to children living in remote overseas communities. He now works with many families, administering acute care when unexpected medical situations arise overnight.
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