Antidepressants in pregnancy

Key points about antidepressants in pregnancy

  • You will need to decide whether it would be best for you to gradually stop taking antidepressants, switch to another type that is safer in pregnancy or continue with the one you are taking.
  • Every woman's experience of depression before or during pregnancy is unique and will affect whether you continue to take them during pregnancy
  • All antidepressants carry some risks. Some antidepressants are much less likely to harm your baby than others.
  • However, if depression is not treated during pregnancy, and you have a relapse, it can harm both you and your child.
  • Your doctor can help you work out the best thing to do for your situation.
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If you are planning a pregnancy or become pregnant while you are taking antidepressants, you need to talk with your doctor about the pros and cons of staying on or coming off your antidepressant medication.

The decision about whether to take antidepressants while you are pregnant depends a lot on how severe your symptoms are. Together with your doctor, you can compare the risks of taking the medicine with the risks of living with and managing your symptoms. 

If you are taking antidepressants and are planning to become pregnant, some options are to:

  • continue with your antidepressant if it is safe to take it during pregnancy
  • switch to an antidepressant that is safer in pregnancy
  • try a slow, gradual withdrawal of the antidepressant with the help of your doctor.

If coming off antidepressants is not possible at the moment, you may want to think about delaying the pregnancy until you no longer need treatment.

All antidepressants carry some risks. Some antidepressants are much less likely to harm your baby than others. Some antidepressants may increase the risk of mild effects in a newborn, such as a slightly lower weight at birth, mild breathing problems, irritability and feeding problems. Some antidepressants may increase the risk of certain birth defects or your baby being born before its expected date. 

If you are taking antidepressants during your pregnancy, your newborn may need to stay in hospital for an extra few days, so that doctors and midwives can watch for any signs that the medication is affecting your baby. Read more about the risks and benefits of taking medicines for mood, epilepsy or pain.(external link)

Lithium – if you are on lithium therapy, this should always be managed by a maternity mental health team during pregnancy.

Sodium valproate – if you are a woman of childbearing age and could possibly get pregnant, you should avoid valproate, if possible. If you use it during pregnancy, there is a risk of harm to your unborn baby, as well as long-term developmental disorders once they are born. If valproate is the best choice for you despite this, you need to understand the risks. Talk to your doctor about this and how to make sure you have effective contraception so you avoid an unplanned pregnancy. 

If depression is not treated during pregnancy, and you have a relapse, it can harm both you and your child. If you don't treat your depression you may:

  • not eat well or get enough sleep
  • smoke and drink
  • not go to the doctor as often as you should
  • give birth early and have a baby that weighs less than it should
  • also be more likely to have perinatal depression after the birth, which can make it hard to care for and bond with your baby. 

Do NOT suddenly stop your antidepressant if you find you are pregnant. Most women with a history of depression who stop taking medication during pregnancy find their depression comes back.  

If you need help or want to talk to somebody about your mental health, you can get support from any of the following:

  • Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor
  • Lifeline 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
  • Healthline 0800 611 116
  • Samaritans 0800 726 666.

Free helplines

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Text 1737 Helpline logo

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Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist, Healthify He Puna Waiora. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland, Dr Jeremy Steinberg, FRNZCGP

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