Many women are advised to stop taking antidepressants if they become pregnant. Any potential side effects of these drugs on the fetus are enough to keep many from taking the risk associated with continued medication treatment. However, putting the woman’s mental health on the backburner can pose a variety of risks to both mother and child. As Kimberly Yonkers, MD, of Yale School of Medicine, notes, “Some women know they will be able to manage their moods and anxiety temporarily and are able to stop treatment in pregnancy. But not all women will stay well.”
Antidepressants classified as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) pass through the placenta and can have severe impacts on the development of a fetus. While little conclusive data exists regarding prenatal effects of SSRIs Zoloft and Prozac, Paxil is given a grade “D” by the FDA for potential harm to the fetus. Birth defects associated with Paxil, and possibly other SSRIs, include persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN), anencephaly, cleft lip or palate, heart defects, respiratory distress and autism.
There are potential fetal side effects to many prescription drugs, yet women with serious physical health conditions are not typically advised to forgo their medication entirely. In these cases, Dr. Yonkers explains, “… [doctors] weigh the maternal benefits and risk to the fetus and consider the bigger picture.” When it comes to mental health, doctors seem more likely to recommend discontinuation of medication. However, if a woman relapses into severe depression during pregnancy, this increases the risk of premature birth. Additionally, the side effects of the disorder, including fatigue, feelings of hopelessness and loss of appetite, can inhibit the mother from engaging in behaviors that promote prenatal health. If the options are weighed and medication is discontinued during pregnancy, women are encouraged to continue with psychotherapy or holistic therapies to support their mental health.
Regardless of whether a pregnancy is involved, going off medication taken for the management of a mental health disorder always involves some level of risk. If you or a loved one has recently gone off medication and is facing relapse, help is available. Sovereign Health Group specializes in treating individuals struggling with mental health disorders, substance abuse issues and dual diagnosis. Call (866) 819-0427 to speak with a professional today.
Pregnancy and mental health: Risk of relapse for expectant mothers (Part 2 of 4)
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer
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