Treating Depression During Pregnancy: Meds or No Meds?

WellbutrinYesterday I revealed that one of the earliest symptoms that I had during my pregnancy with my daughter was heightened emotions that eventually culminated in outright anxiety. I have also made no secret about my past struggles with depression and anxiety. I am the first to admit that I do not deal well with stressful situations. In fact, I ultimately decided to encapsulate my placenta because of the decreased risk of postpartum depression. Now that my daughter is over a year old, I am happy to report that I did not end up dealing with any depression or any anxiety out of the ordinary for me.

In the past, I have taken antidepressants, most notably Zoloft. Before trying to conceive my daughter, I weaned myself off of all my medications including the Flonase that I took for my nasal allergy symptoms. My goal was to take as few drugs as possible before and during my pregnancy. (I did ultimately end up taking an antihistamine almost every day during the fall of my pregnancy, but Benadryl is thought to be pretty safe for a developing fetus.) I was also determined not to take an antidepressant while pregnant because of an online news article entitled “Depression dilemma in pregnancy: Ditch meds?” whose subtitle “Experts argue over whether it’s worse to leave depression untreated – or take potentially risky medication” left me wondering the same question as well.

According to the article, most antidepressant medications available on the market have not been linked to an increased risk of birth defects. Unfortunately, a few drugs such as Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft — which I have taken in the past — have been linked to some specific issues such as persistent pulmonary hypertension and other heart problems. The link is not yet causal. In other words, not enough research has been conducted on all antidepressants during pregnancy to conclusively say that the medications are safe or harmful.

Then again, as the article continues, not treating depression and anxiety during pregnancy comes with different risks. For example, babies born to mothers who experienced mental illnesses like depression during pregnancy are often lower-weight babies when compared to babies born to mothers who did not deal with depression. (I am happy to say that my daughter, who was born at a healthy seven pounds five ounces, did not suffer an ill-effects in terms of size because of my anxiety while pregnant.) More important, pregnant women who stop taking their medications during pregnancy can experience withdrawal symptoms from the drug that put undue stress on the developing baby. Stress is bad for an individual, whether that person is born yet or not.

What should a hopeful mother-to-be do about treating depression and anxiety during pregnancy. Taking medication and not taking medication are both options. But taking medication and not taking medication both come with risks and benefits. For me, treating anxiety during pregnancy did not involve drugs. My anxiety was not severe enough for me to risk any negative outcomes associated with taking antidepressants during pregnancy. In fact, taking an antidepressant would have caused me even more anxiety, so the choice was definitely not an option for me. However, I do think that some mothers should continue or start taking antidepressant medications to treat depression and anxiety during pregnancy for their sakes as well as the sakes of their unborn babies. A happy pregnant mother-to-be on antidepressants is no better nor no worse than a severely depressed pregnant mother-to-be. In other words, the choice to medication or not depends solely upon the individual woman and the circumstances.

What do you think about taking antidepressants during pregnancy?


Depression dilemma in pregnancy: Ditch meds?:

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Heather Johnson

Heather Johnson is a mother, wife, writer, librarian, and linguist. She earned a BA in English studies with a minor in creative writing from Illinois State University in May 2007, an MS in library and information science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in May 2009, and an MS in English studies with an emphasis in linguistics at Illinois State University in December 2011.

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