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title pic Antidepressants and Pregnancy: Weighing the Risks

Posted by Fiona Cole on May 13, 2011

Antidepressants and Pregnancy: Weighing the Risks

According to a 2006 study carried out by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 14 to 23 percent of women will experience some symptoms of depression during their pregnancy. The study reported that approximately 8 percent of women decide to take antidepressant medication during their pregnancy.

If you research the literature on the possible link between antidepressants and birth defects, you will read a wide array of opinions on both sides of the fence. So when is it right to take antidepressant medication during a pregnancy — if ever? The answer to that question comes down to the individual, in conjunction with the advice of an experienced doctor, but there are a few important things to bear in mind.

One of the prevailing opinions on the “pro-antidepressants” side of the argument is that depression itself can cause problems for the baby. While it is true that major depression comes with some very real challenges and complications for the mother-to-be, the jury is out on just how much depression alone negatively affects the development of a fetus.

Associate professor Dr. Kimberly Yonkers, who is based at the Yale School of Medicine, is conducting one of the most comprehensive studies so far on the comparison between the effects of antidepressant medication versus the effects of untreated depression on a developing baby’s health. So far, Yonkers has reported that the results of the study are indicating that major depression alone does not increase the risk of a pre-term birth — as other studies have suggested — or other significant complications.

To be fair, the jury is also out on just how, and to what extent, antidepressant medication affects the fetus. But there is certainly broad agreement on the fact that an increased risk of birth defects associated with antidepressants does exist, even if that elevated risk may be small.

Gathering the data for these studies is slow and difficult owing to the fact that not many women are willing to sign up to take antidepressants during pregnancy for the purposes of research. Data has to be collected from the small percentage of women who do feel it is necessary to take antidepressants during their pregnancy, and the variables for this group of women also have to be taken into account.

While it is never advisable to abruptly stop taking antidepressant medication for a major mental health issue, there is a lot of valid concern around the question of how antidepressant medication might negatively affect your child. So it is certainly worth looking into alternatives, if you are planning on becoming pregnant.

Major depression is the most serious clinical form of depression and the treatment and risk factors are more complicated. For mild to moderate cases of depression, however, studies have shown that alternative therapies can be just as effective as medication, if not more so, in alleviating symptoms:

  1. Exercise — Try to take regular walks or find an exercise group that will also serve as a support group.
  2. Nutrition — Make sure you eat well and treat yourself to healthy, nutritious snacks throughout the day.
  3. Rest — Take naps and make sure you are getting enough sleep.
  4. Talk Therapy — Studies have shown that talk therapy can be more effective than medication for many people suffering from depression.
  5. Yoga — A prenatal yoga and meditation class is a wonderful way to exercise your body, de-stress your mind and enjoy the communal support of a group setting.
  6. Aromatherapy — Essential oils are a great therapeutic tool. Dot lavender oil on your wrists and temples throughout the day.
  7. Massage Therapy — It may seem like a luxury, but consider the benefits and make the investment in yourself and your baby.
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