Posted by Claudia Grazioso on June 2, 2011
About three weeks before my wedding, I started having panic attacks. It wasn’t just stress, it was full-blown, end-of-the-world panic. Suddenly, I couldn’t calm down, my mind raced, my heart pounded, I bolted awake every night. It was awful. I finally called a doctor, who offered to prescribe Klonopin. It would help, she assured me. Relieved, I hung up, went about my day, and never made it to the pharmacy to pick up my prescription. Maybe I was too busy, maybe I forgot, maybe in some way I didn’t really think medication was the way to go. In any event, I made it through my wedding, had a great time and then quickly cannon-launched myself into the never-ending panic attack known as parenthood.
I have to say, the idea of Klonopin thrilled me. I was kind of psyched to know there was a drug out there that would handle any future panic attacks I might have. Of course, this was before having kids, when I didn’t think twice about all the stuff I happily consumed. But considering how soon after getting married I got pregnant with our first child, I am really glad I didn’t have Klonopin (also known as Clonazepam) in my system.
Normally prescribed for panic attacks (and apparently one of its sub-categories, Pre-Marital Freak Out), Klonopin is a member of the benzodiazepine family. It is also prescribed to treat seizure disorders like epilepsy. It works by decreasing the abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Non-scientifically speaking, it mellows you out. Pregnant women who take it to treat disorders like epilepsy should note that uncontrolled seizures also a pose a risk to a developing fetus and you should talk with your doctor before making any changes to your medication.
Klonopin, like other benzodiazepines, is a Category D drug, meaning there is strong reason to believe that it can cause birth defects in a developing fetus. It is generally considered unsafe to take during pregnancy. Drugs like Klonopin should be prescribed only when the risk of damage to the developing baby has been fully considered and the seriousness of the mother’s condition outweighs those risks. Klonopin has been associated with an increase in limb defects and cleft palate, and there is inconclusive evidence that prenatal exposure to benzodiazepines might lead to developmental difficulties and delays. Also, as with many drugs, Klonopin can lead to withdrawal when it is used late in pregnancy. Symptoms include cyanosis, a poor metabolic response to cold, hypertonia, hypotonia, tremors, inconsolable crying and apnea. Additionally, most doctors agree that women taking Klonopin should avoid breast-feeding. Although no adverse side effects have been observed, the effects of exposure to Klonopin on an infant are still not known but may be cause for concern. At the very least, it’s cause for more studies.
Panic attacks can be crippling, but it seems that if you can make it through your pregnancy without a drug like Klonopin, or can find an alternative way to ease panic attacks, that might be the better way to go.