Depression and Pregnancy: Is Taking SSRI Medication Safe?

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For most women, finding out that you are pregnant is the happiest moment of your life to that point in time. Carrying a child is one of life’s miracles after all. However, for some, it can be a moment filled with anxiety, stress and worry, particularly if they are on medication for depression. Many women who have depression rely on their medication to be able to function and feel “normal” but how does that weigh against the health of an unborn baby? Is taking medication for depression safe?

There is no easy answer to this question to be perfectly honest. This is largely because different health practitioners believe in different theories. Some point to trials that demonstrate that some medications are relatively harmless, whereas others prefer individuals to cease taking medication where possible. If you suffer from depression, though, you should consider your mental health as well as the effect it may or may not have on the baby.

So what about the specific antidepressants available?

Well, there has been much research into SSRIs, or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, in recent years. This includes fluoxetine (Prozac), citalopram (Celexa), Paroxetine (Paxil) and sertraline (Zoloft) and other similar drugs like duloxetine (Cymbalta), venlafaxin (Effexor) and nefazodone (Serzone). If you are on any of these drugs and are trying for a baby or pregnant then there are certain facts that you should know.

According to Gerald Briggs, a pharmacist clinical specialist, women on Paxil will need to switch drugs or stop taking it as soon as possible. This information is reinforced by the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) publishing research that suggests it increases the risk of birth defects when taken early in pregnancy.

Briggs points out that there are various studies that find no significant difference in terms of the rates of stillbirth and miscarriage for those women taking other SSRIs. The UK’s NHS also points out that other studies that revealed heart malformations, like septal heart defects, could be linked to the mother taking SSRIs have been sensationalized in the media. In fact, the risk of this happening is only 0.4% greater in the cases where the mother takes SSRIs over a mother that does not.

What should you do if you take SSRIs?

If you are planning on trying to conceive in the near future and take SSRIs then it is advisable that you see a doctor as soon as possible. If you explain the situation to him then he will be able to come up with an alternative treatment plan should you need one. After all, your mental health is just as important during pregnancy, if not more so, than at any other time.

If you have recently found out that you are pregnant then you should make an appointment with your doctor immediately. Although the medical profession does try to avoid making new SSRI prescriptions for pregnant ladies, the decision to newly prescribe or continue to prescribe SSRIs is made on an individual basis in line with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) guidelines. Of course, there is an exception to that rule – Paxil.

Back to the question – is taking SSRI medication safe during pregnancy? The simple answer is yes, providing that you are not on Paxil and that you are monitored throughout. Your midwife should be made aware of your medication and a consultant or doctor should see you regularly to review your health during the 40 weeks. There is absolutely no need to be worried about taking antidepressants during pregnancy providing that you get the best care and medical advice possible.

 

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