The Dangers of Taking Antidepressants While Pregnant
While pregnancy brings with it so much joy, it is a transformative time that will alter your approach towards life. Dealing with depression doesn’t help when you’re trying to process such a critical life transition. In addressing your depression, you may be relying on antidepressants while pregnant to suppress symptoms of depression, irritability, sadness, or anxiety. However, if you have a baby on the way, taking antidepressants can endanger the baby’s health. Should you be expecting and either have been contemplating or are already taking these sorts of drugs, there’s a lot of risks you need to be evaluating.
According to an American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) report, 14–23% of pregnant women are experiencing depression during pregnancy while 5–25% of mothers go through postpartum depression. Taking such drugs, as with many other decisions when you’re expecting, is a personal choice. While there are many instances when antidepressant usage does not harm babies in the slightest, there are various cases that can cause them short- and long-term issues.
Babies who are exposed to antidepressants in the womb are prone to a higher risk of preterm birth, developmental delays, or lower than average birth weight. Other potential problems include breathing difficulties and persistent pulmonary hypertension among others. There is also the possibility of your baby suffering from postnatal adaptation syndrome, which is triggered by a baby’s shortness of breath and can cause jitters.
As a result, it becomes twice as likely that the first days of your baby’s life will be spent in an intensive care unit compared to babies whose mothers didn’t take antidepressants. These types of drugs enter your bloodstream and can cross your placenta to reach your baby. Thus, if your dosage is higher, you put your baby’s fitness at higher risk. Increased usage can lead to your baby developing a psychiatric disorder, affecting mental capacity.
When is the Riskiest Time to Take Antidepressants?
While it’s a tricky time to ingest antidepressants while pregnant, you will find that taking them within your first trimester poses the highest risk. The first trimester is often described as the most trying period of the pregnancy for an expecting mother. It is also the period – between weeks three and eight in particular – when your baby’s major organs begin to develop. A baby’s heart, brain, and spinal cord take shape during this vital stage.
Taking antidepressants while pregnant during your second and third trimesters reduces but doesn’t eliminate risk levels. During your last trimester, antidepressant usage can trigger temporary discontinuation symptoms including irritability, respiratory problems, and poor feeding. These symptoms can last for up to a month after the baby is born.
One Drug, in Particular, Could Trigger Harmful Effects
Antidepressants that possess the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), paroxetine, are found to be the most dangerous types. According to some studies, babies exposed to paroxetine are twice as prone to being born with cardiovascular malformations such as fetal heart defect. Paroxetine is also known as Paxil, Brisdelle, and Pexeva.
While less than two percent of babies are affected by this, antidepressants containing paroxetine aren’t recommended during pregnancy. SSRI use, in general, may interfere with fetal brain development, specifically parts of the baby’s brain associated with emotions. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has reported that children whose mothers used at least two SSRIs during pregnancy could be subject to various impediments. JAMA Psychiatry found that the risk of such children developing speech and language disorders is 37% higher than children whose mothers didn’t take these drugs, and it’s 63% higher than for children’s whose mothers didn’t have depression at all.
On another note, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), which include tranylcypromine (Parnate) and phenelzine (Nardil), are also drugs that you should be discouraged from taking during your pregnancy. Taking an MAOI could limit fetal growth.
While the direct link connecting antidepressant usage to developing autism isn’t definitive, it is a potential link that should be aware of nonetheless.
Research via JAMA suggests that genetics and environmental factors may increase autism risk more than antidepressants do. However, it should be noted that children of women who take antidepressants are likelier to be diagnosed with autism than children of women who don’t take them. The risk is minimal, but it exists.
The Risk of Switching Medications
If you’ve been reading all this so far and are looking for an alternative such as switching your medication, you have to be very careful. Any decision to change your medication or alter dosage should depend on mood disorder and its stability.
All potential risks must be discussed with your specialist. Concerns with your current antidepressant should be contrasted with any risks of taking a new one or coming off such drugs altogether. A substitute drug could always fail and lead to a relapse. Coming off antidepressants can also lead to complications such as worsening mood, postpartum depression, or postpartum psychosis. As mentioned before, antidepressants may not affect your baby whatsoever, and there are some well-recommended ones out there. However, knowing which one to take and sticking with it are the hardest factors to contemplate. Second-guessing is something you should avoid at all costs, so talk to your doctor first!
The safest antidepressants recommended for use during pregnancy include Fluoxetine (Sarafem, Prozac), Sertraline (Zoloft), Amitriptyline (Elavil) and Citalopram (Celexa) among others.
What to Do?
Trying to suppress depression and handling pregnancy are daunting tasks by themselves, let alone at the same time. Though there are many dangers affiliated with taking antidepressants, the risks involved are low, less than five percent.
Trying to regulate depression while handling the hormone changes and other adjustments your body deals with during pregnancy can be strenuous. When looking into taking antidepressants while pregnant, you’ll need a strategic approach, formed by you and your doctor, but also patience and attention to detail.