Mental Health Medications and Pregnancy: What Are the Risks and Benefits for Mom and Baby?
Experts Discuss Long-Term Use of Prescriptions for Mental Health and Their Implications During Pregnancy
New York City | Thursday, June 6, 2013
No woman should stop taking her mental health medication if she gets pregnant without first talking to her doctor, experts said today at a luncheon for reporters hosted by March of Dimes National Communications Advisory Council.
Some young women have been on antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, or medication for attention deficit disorders since they were teenagers. Now as women of childbearing age or mothers-to-be, they should seek support and guidance from health care providers to determine if they should continue, stop or switch to a different drug.
More than half of pregnant women take at least one prescription medication at some time during pregnancy, the experts said.
Christina Chambers, PhD, MPH, the director of Clinical Research at Rady Children’s Hospital and the Department of Pediatrics at the University of California San Diego, and Kimberly A. Yonkers, MD, director of the PMS and Perinatal Psychiatric Research Program at Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, discussed how widespread the use of these medications are and their relative risks.
“Pregnant women should talk to their doctor about which medications they are taking, and what are the best options for them while pregnant. It is important to balance the possible risks and benefits of all medications to the mother and the baby,” said Dr. Yonkers.
Women should not just quit taking their medications, Dr. Yonkers said. If a woman prefers to stop her medications and her physicians agree that it is a reasonable option, she can do so and be monitored.
"Women agonize over whether or not to continue their mental health medications while pregnant," said Dr. Chambers, who helps direct California's MotherToBaby pregnancy exposure counseling phone line that advises thousands of women every year. She pointed out that one out of every 33 babies has some type of birth defect regardless of medication use, so it can be difficult to tell what role the drug may have played in causing a birth defect.
When possible, women and their doctors should discuss the options before pregnancy so they can weigh the potential risk to the baby with the clear risks of stopping treatment, said Dr. Chambers.
For information about medication during pregnancy please visit the marchofdimes.org website or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website .
In 2013, the March of Dimes celebrates its 75th Anniversary and its ongoing work to help babies get a healthy start in life. Early research led to the Salk and Sabin polio vaccines that all babies still receive. Other breakthroughs include new treatments for premature infants and children with birth defects. About 4 million babies are born each year in the United States, and all have benefitted the March of Dimes life saving research and education.
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March of Dimes leads the fight for the health of all moms and babies. We support research, lead programs and provide education and advocacy so that every baby can have the best possible start. Building on a successful 80-year legacy of impact and innovation, we empower every mom and every family.