When you are eating for two it can feel easy to second guess everything that you put in your body. After all, every mom-to-be wants to have a healthy baby. And while we know all about the magical ways that folic acid and iron can help keep mom and baby healthy, what about other things we put into our bodies? For mothers who experience a range of depression symptoms, taking antidepressants has become a critical part of their mental health and well-being. But during pregnancy, when every bite, sip, and pill is scrutinized, many moms want to know; are antidepressants safe to take during pregnancy? Here’s what the science says.
But, to be fair, taking antidepressants aren’t 100% unsafe either. Researchers have looked at the safety of drugs like Wellbutrin and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs for short, for many years and there is now a huge wealth of studies on the safety of anti-depressants. But when it comes to studying pregnant women, we don’t know as much. For example, we know that in general, these drugs are safe and commonly prescribed by doctors. But what we don’t know for certain is how safe they are on a growing baby. That’s because ethical boundaries around how studies can be conducted on pregnant women mean that there are many unanswered questions.
The science is still out on this one and more studies need to be done but there is some evidence out there that shows that expecting mothers who take antidepressants, particularly during the second and third trimesters, may see an increase in preterm births. But these risks, while very real, are also very rare and could do more harm as stats like this contribute to the stigma of mothers using antidepressants during pregnancy.
According to the Mayo Clinic, however, “the biggest concern is typically the risk of birth defects from exposure to antidepressants. Overall, the risk of birth defects and other problems for babies of mothers who take antidepressants during pregnancy is very low. However, some antidepressants are associated with a higher risk of complications for your baby.”
For some mothers with moderate to severe depression, stopping medications at any time but especially during pregnancy might cause more harm than good. Underlying health issues from untreated depression can range from depressive episodes to drug and alcohol use, which can be far more damaging to the mother’s health and ultimately her baby. Women who are not properly treated for depression while pregnant are also less likely to seek out adequate prenatal care, including a healthy diet and exercise. Depression is a serious illness that needs to be treated and only a mother and her doctor can determine what the individual risks will be for taking or not taking antidepressants during pregnancy. It is critical that every mother feel safe and healthy and that might need to include taking antidepressants.
If you are experiencing depression and need help, reach out to your primary care doctor. If that isn’t possible, you can also reach out to the National Helpline|SAMHSA Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.