Feeling depressed when pregnant goes against the ultimate joy society tells us we should feel when carrying a child. But many pregnant women – including some with no prior history of the condition – will get the blues. Deciding whether to take medication to treat the symptoms of depression during pregnancy is a difficult one to face.
When women become pregnant, the level of the female hormone progesterone dramatically increases. For some women, it can also increase the level of an enzyme that breaks down serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, causing symptoms of depression. Numerous studies have estimated that about 10 percent of pregnant women experience prenatal depression.
Antidepressants have become the Band-Aid for treating symptoms of depression, and have become so popular they are among the most prescribed medications in the United States. The most common antidepressants are known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Brand-name SSRIs include Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro, Paxil and Prozac. An estimated 8 percent of pregnant women use antidepressants.
Pregnancy is a time when most women are encouraged to eat healthy and not take drugs or unnecessary medications, but what if you are depressed? Will antidepressants affect your pregnancy or the health of your unborn child? It is a question that has been posed more than 800 times in medical journals.
Studies have shown that babies who were born to women who took SSRIs while pregnant were at increased risk for birth defects including persistent pulmonary hypertension, heart defects, spina bifida, and malformations. They were also more likely to be born pre-term. Other studies indicate exposure to SSRIs can increase a child’s chance of having behavioral problems, learning difficulties, developmental delays and even autism. SSRIs have also been found to increase the risk for hypertension in pregnant women, which can lead to preeclampsia, which can be deadly for both the mother and the baby.
For women who become seriously depressed and are suicidal or in danger of harming themselves or their fetus, the answer is fairly clear – medicate. But for those who are only moderately depressed, the decision becomes more difficult. Women are encouraged to discuss with their doctors treatment options and what is in the best interest for both the mother and the baby.