New Information About Antidepressants During Pregnancy

The question of whether pregnant women with depression should take antidepressants during pregnancy has received a great deal of recent attention in the press. A recent article, published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found no link between antidepressants and congenital heart defects. In the popular press, this finding was interpreted to mean that antidepressants are safe for pregnant mothers and their fetuses, such as with the headline of this article.

The answer is far less clear, and this most recent finding runs contrary to many previous studies demonstrating associations between antidepressant use during pregnancy and certain issues, such as withdrawal syndromes in newborns, some dangerous lung disorders, and possibly other disorders like autism. Another study, for example, found that there is a link between use of serotonin reuptake antidepressants (SSRIs), such as paroxetine, taken in the first three months of pregnancy and heart defects and other congenital abnormalities.

How should the consumer react when faced with contradictory information that may directly affect their health care? First, if you are a pregnant woman who is currently taking an antidepressant, you should always discuss treatment options with your doctor. If necessary, you may wish to ask for referral to a specialist with experience in treating depression during pregnancy—often a specially trained obstetrician or psychiatrist. Your doctor should be able to help you find such a specialist. Asking an expert is always the best step to take. As an aside, anyone taking an antidepressant should never stop the medication without discussing it with their healthcare provider, and never do so suddenly, as this may cause dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Antidepressants and other drugs for mental disorders should almost always be stopped gradually.

Pregnant women troubled with depressed mood who are considering taking antidepressants should discuss this treatment option very carefully and openly with their providers. Many forms of depression in pregnancy are treatable without medication, but some cases may require medicine. This is a decision never to be taken lightly, so women need to feel very comfortable with whatever treatment option they choose.

This article is from the desk of the National Register of Health Service Psychologists’ Executive Officer.