Posted by Claudia Grazioso on January 25, 2012
Sometimes it seems there’s a lot of crossover between drugs prescribed for depression and those prescribed for anxiety. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, commonly referred to as SSRIs, are usually prescribed to treat depression, but sometimes they are also used to treat anxiety disorders as well. By now, most people are well aware of the risks associated with SSRI medications, and expectant mothers have usually been informed about the risk of taking SSRIs while pregnant. But what about expectant moms who suffer from anxiety and are prescribed a different kind of medication? Benzodiazepines have been around for years, and are frequently used to treat anxiety disorders, panic disorder, insomnia and even seizures. Drugs like Xanax (alprazolam), Valium (diazepam) and Ativan (lorazepam) are all commonly-prescribed benzodiazepines. Are they a safer bet during pregnancy for moms who suffer from anxiety but want to avoid SSRIs?
As it often seems to be the case, there are no hard and fast rules about the overall safety of benzodiazepines when taken during pregnancy. While SSRIs have a pretty long “Beware List” of problems including PPHN (Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn), club foot, cleft palate and infant omphalocele (just to name a few), the testing on benzodiazepines as a group hasn’t yielded any solid findings. However, some studies have linked maternal use of benzodiazepines in the first trimester of pregnancy to an increase in the risk of cleft palate or facial malformations. Additionally, some other studies have found a possible link between benzodiazepines and lower birth weights as well as premature labor.
Finally, infants who are born to mothers who took benzodiazepines during pregnancy can undergo withdrawal. Though the drugs do eventually leave their systems and haven’t been conclusively proven to have a lasting detrimental effect, these drugs can cause quite a few problems on their way out. Infants who experience withdrawal from benzodiazepines have been reported to experience an inability to control their body temperature, breathing difficulties, tremors, muscle weakness or “floppy baby” syndrome, jitteriness or irritability.
If you are pregnant and are concerned about taking benzodiazepines, most experts do not recommend simply quitting cold turkey. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of taking anti-anxiety drugs during your pregnancy, and then you will be better informed to make a decision that is best for you and your child.