Posted by Hilary Parker on May 30, 2011
Pregnant? If you were or still are taking antidepressant medications during your pregnancy (including Accutane, Celexa, Effexor, Lexapro, Pristiq, Prozac and Zoloft) and are worried about birth defects, you may be wondering how to proceed.
First, talk to your doctor; together, you can decide whether you should remain on the medication. This is a decision that you should not make on your own, as there are many factors to consider; even if you and your doctor decide it’s best to stop taking the medication, your doctor probably will want you to gradually wean your body from the drug.
But what if you have lingering concerns about your baby’s health as your pregnancy progresses? Are there tests that can put your mind at ease?
If you’ve been pregnant before, you’re probably familiar with the most common, non-invasive tests like ultrasound scans and the alpha-fetoprotein test (or AFP). These tests are not necessary for all pregnancies, but they can help diagnose problems or potential problems — or help set your mind at ease.
If you’re interested, ask your doctor about the following:
Ultrasound — Everyone’s familiar with this fairly routine scan, and associate it closely with pregnancy. There is seemingly no risk to the fetus or mother-to-be, and it offers general insight into the health of the baby. In early pregnancy, ultrasound technicians measure parts of the baby in order to get a feel for whether it’s developing on schedule and to establish a date of conception (and hence a due date). In later stages, ultrasounds are used to check the overall health of the fetus, its sex and position, and to measure the amniotic fluid, determine causes of any bleeding the mother is experiencing and check the condition of the placenta. It’s also an incredible bonding experience with your baby.
AFP —AFP screening measures the levels of alpha-fetoprotein in the mother’s blood and carries no risk for the fetus. Abnormal levels mean your doctor would want to test further for a potential brain or spinal cord defect. It also indicates an increased risk of Down syndrome. But it may simply mean you’re pregnant with multiples or your due date has been miscalculated. Should this test come back positive, it’s usually repeated or followed up by other tests. And know that even if your AFP levels are elevated, birth defects are only found in a very few cases.
We chose to have the non-invasive screenings done in order to know if there was a big problem that we needed to be prepared for. Knowing that everything appeared to be fine did help us proceed confidently. But no matter what the tests say, it’s normal to have some anxiety leading up to the baby’s birth. The first time we had a baby and she was pronounced healthy by the delivery room staff and pediatrician, I felt an immense weight lift. The second time, I was more confident that the baby was going to be healthy, but I also knew that this pronouncement was just one step in a very long journey of caring for her and keeping her that way.