Do Antidepressants Affect Babies During Pregnancy?

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It’s one of the age-old arguments during pregnancy: Should or shouldn’t expectant mothers take antidepressants?

In 2018, it was recorded that approximately 5 percent of women during pregnancy were turning to antidepressants, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), including Paroxetine, Sertraline and Citalopram.

But does this mean it’s safe for soon-to-be mothers to be taking antidepressants at all during pregnancy?

The experts at the after-hours doctor service House Call Doctor break down everything you need to know from potential risks involved to the alternative options available.

How do I know if I’m depressed?

Depression during pregnancy (also known as antepartum depression) can sometimes go unnoticed due to many women attributing their feelings to hormones or typical mood swings. That’s why it’s very important to be able to tell the difference between depression and the “baby blues.”

If you are experiencing the below signs for longer than two consecutive weeks, you may have antepartum depression and should consult a doctor:

  • Changes in eating habits
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities you usually enjoy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of sadness and or guilt

Will taking antidepressants affect my baby?

Until now, the answer to this question was that there are usually only some short-term symptoms noticed with newborns from the use of antidepressants. Most symptoms were only mild, including irritability and fast breathing, and usually subsided within two weeks.

However, a recent study released by JAMA Paediatrics suggests antidepressants, including SSRIs, used by expectant mothers could potentially interfere with fetal brain development, particularly in areas of the brain responsible for emotions.

While this research offers an entirely new perspective on antidepressants for both pregnant women and medical professionals, the paper is preliminary. So, why has it taken this long for research to be presented detailing further harmful effects of taking antidepressants during pregnancy?

In the simplest terms, it’s because researchers are not allowed to conduct in-depth investigations on expectant mothers.

Instead, there are many reports supported only by observational research that explore the connection between women on antidepressants and the health outcomes of their newborns.

What are my other options?

For expectant mothers experiencing difficult situations, there are options available apart from antidepressants. These alternatives primarily include methods of relaxation and even distraction.

  • Psychotherapy: Interpersonal psychotherapy focuses on how to improve moods by interacting with others. It’s a highly structured and timely approach scheduled across approximately 12 weeks to assist in resolving any interpersonal problems or symptomatic recovery.
  • Acupuncture and massage: This may seem like an odd alternative, but acupuncture and massages are proven to ease the physical discomfort women experience during pregnancy and therefore improve the mother’s mood. Many workshops also offer to teach women how to practice progressive muscle relaxation at home, which can lower levels of anxiety.

Is it safe to take antidepressants?

Overall, there is no evidence suggesting antidepressants will put your baby in major harm. Doctors usually prefer for women with depression to be treated, as it’s more dangerous for both mother and baby to go untreated, particularly for those with moderate or severe depression.

If you feel you may be suffering from depression, consult your regular doctor for further information on what your next steps should be.

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