Posted by Claudia Grazioso on March 25, 2011
Panic, worry, driving fear, overwhelming anxiety? All in the average day of a new or expectant mother. For most women, these fears come and go. But for women with General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), the anxiety can be so intense that it interrupts daily functions. Frequently, an anti-anxiety drug like Lexapro is prescribed, but whether it’s safe to take during pregnancy is still unclear. Some women have taken it without incident, others have not. Here’s what you need to know if you are pregnant or breastfeeding and are taking or considering taking Lexapro.
Lexapro (escitalopram), similar to Celexa (citalopram), is an SSRI. It is a Category C drug, which means that it has been shown to harm fetuses in animal studies, but no studies have yet been done on human fetal development. However, there have been reports of birth defects that include seizures, difficulty breathing resulting in low blood oxygen levels, tremors and feeding problems so severe that sometimes doctors resort to the use of a feeding tube. Babies exposed to Lexapro late in the pregnancy seem to suffer the worse effects, including Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension (PPHN). If you have taken Lexapro or any SSRI during pregnancy, keep an eye on your infant for signs of PPHN. If you see respiratory distress, a bluish tinge to your baby’s skin, or rapid breathing or heartbeat, have your baby evaluated by a neonatalogist immediately. Though the majority of infants can be treated successfully, PPHN can require treatment in a NICU, and severe cases can result in heart or kidney failure, organ damage or brain hemorrhage. Women who takes drugs like Lexapro after the 20th week of pregnancy have babies who are six times more likely to have PPHN.
The effects of Lexapro on breast-feeding are still unknown. But Lexapro is present in breast milk. Studies done a few years back show that only about 5.3 percent of the mom’s dose transfers to the breast milk. Because of this small percentage, escitalopram is considered safe. So far. Experts believe that such a small amount is not likely to cause harm, especially if the infant is older than two months. Once again, moms are left to make the judgment call. For some mothers, that 5 percent is still too much. For others, it’s nothing to worry about.
Do you err on the side of caution and not take it? Or will the resulting anxiety interfere with your ability to mother in other ways? It’s hard to make these calls… And it really comes down to you. Look at this as one of the thousands of judgment calls you will have to make throughout your child’s life and do what you will always do: Know the facts, look at your own set of circumstances and trust yourself.