Physical conditions such as hypertension and diabetes during pregnancy have an established line of treatment, but this is not the case with mental conditions such as depression. Whether or not to take antidepressants during pregnancy is one question that is difficult to answer for the woman. While leaving depression untreated can take toll on the health of the mother and the baby, antidepressant treatment can pose some risks for the unborn child.

The situation comes up as a tricky one and the only way out is to weigh the risks and benefits of antidepressant treatment before finding its suitability for every individual case. The decision needs to be made in consultation of the woman’s gynecologist as well as her psychiatrist, who are better equipped to help her decide keeping in mind her well-being as well as that of the unborn baby and her existing family.

Pregnancy and Depression

Pregnancy is the time when the physical and mental health of a woman has a direct influence over the baby she carried inside her. For this reason, she needs to focus on being healthy and happy during this time. However, contrary to the belief that pregnancy hormones protect her from depression, it has been scientifically established that she becomes more likely to face depression during pregnancy.

Whether or not to opt for antidepressant treatment during pregnancy is a matter of debate. In general, pregnant women are discouraged from taking any kind of medicines but leaving depression untreated can have far reaching effects. Such women are less likely to take good pregnancy care and may harm themselves as well as the baby by indulging in substance abuse. This increases the chances of miscarriage, premature labor and low birth weight of the baby as well as puts the woman at high risk of postpartum depression.

Moreover, untreated depression can affect the woman’s family life as well as relationships. She may not be able to give attention to her older children and everything may go haywire. At the same time, it is essential to think whether antidepressant medication can put the unborn baby at the risk of birth defects. Research has shown that most of the conventional antidepressants are generally safe and women are better off with treatment rather than leaving depression untreated during pregnancy.

Pregnancy and Antidepressants: Yes or No?

It is recommended that women with mild depression should rely on psychotherapy and lifestyle modifications to cope up with the condition, but those with severe and recurrent depression or history of mental illnesses must take up the option of antidepressant treatment. Most of the antidepressants are regarded safe for pregnant women, while a few such as paroxetine have a controversial reputation. Whether a woman is pregnant or planning pregnancy in near future, it is advisable to consult a doctor to know whether the current antidepressant she is taking is safe for her or it needs to be changed. Drug substitution is one option to consider as the type of antidepressant can be switched to a safer one for a pregnant woman. But this is to be done in consultation with the doctor because any change could result in a depression relapse.

At the same time, if the woman must for the option of antidepressants during pregnancy, it is important to keep all the risks (however small these may be) in perspective because research findings about them are still inconclusive. While some studies have shown that there are some health risks for babies subjected to antidepressants in the womb, others have established that there is nothing to worry about. Regardless of the fact that the risk is very low, most mothers would not like to expose their babies to the same.

Reported risks related with antidepressant use during pregnancy include heart defects, fetal defects, preterm weight, low birth weight, miscarriage and low Apgar scores. Such infants may also need neonatal care post birth for issues such as breathing problems, low blood sugar, trouble feeding and irritability. However, these risks are not generalized and depend on the type of antidepressant taken and its timing. Overall, these risks associated with antidepressants are just slightly higher than the average risks in any pregnancy.

The Final Word

However small the risks related to antidepressant intake during pregnancy may be, it is still feasible to think twice before opting for the treatment. It needs to be done only if the benefits of taking the treatment outweigh its risks. Until and unless the condition is so serious that it will have serious implications on the health of the woman and her baby, she should rely upon non-medicinal treatment options such as psychotherapy, counseling, yoga, meditation, mild exercise and support of the family.

On the other hand, relying on antidepressant medication is a must in some cases when severe depression, if left untreated, could pose greater risk than that of the small one associated with antidepressant intake. Whether or not a woman should take antidepressants during pregnancy depends upon individual circumstances as well as severity of the condition in each case. Whatever decision is taken, it should be an informed one and needs to be done only after the doctor agrees with the same.

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