Should You Stop Taking Antidepressants During Pregnancy?

"A healthy parent is a healthy kid."

From the moment women announce they’re pregnant, there’s an expectation they’ll put their baby’s needs above their own at any cost – just look at the stigma that exists around bottle-feeding instead of breastfeeding.

This expectation only makes things harder for women who might need to take antidepressants during pregnancy.

The potential risks of taking antidepressants for the unborn baby are well-documented – but less frequently spoken about are the risks mums-to-be face by coming off potentially life-saving medication.

Actor Amanda Seyfried helped end this silence in an interview in 2017, when she revealed she’d remained on antidepressants throughout her pregnancy, saying: “A healthy parent is a healthy kid.”

But for other parents-to-be making the tough choice, here are some things you might want to consider.

Do Women Usually Come Off Antidepressants During Pregnancy?

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to taking antidepressants during pregnancy, according to mental health charity Mind.

Women who already take antidepressants may decide to stay on them during pregnancy, and women who experience new mental health problems during pregnancy may be prescribed antidepressants for the first time. Equally, some women opt to avoid medication.

“Ultimately, you need to balance the possible risks to your baby against any potential harm in not taking your medication, and come to your own decision about what’s best for you, based on your own experience,” the charity says.

What Are The Risks Of Antidepressants To Babies?

There is some evidence that taking the type of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) slightly increases the risk of your baby developing heart defects, spina bifida and cleft lip, says Mind.

Other potential risks include:

  • Increased risk of miscarriage

  • Increased risk of premature birth

  • Withdrawal symptoms in the newborn baby.

“All risks are likely to be higher during the first three months and last few weeks of your pregnancy, when your baby is more vulnerable,” the charity says.

Breastfeeding while on higher doses of antidepressants may also cause the baby to experience some side effects of the medication.

What If You Want To Come Off Antidepressants?

If you do decide to stop taking antidepressants during pregnancy, the advice is the same as it is for anyone coming off mental health medication: speak to your GP or psychotherapist first.

Going cold turkey and stopping antidepressants abruptly is more likely to lead to withdrawal symptoms and mental health problems. A medical professional can help you cut down slowly and will tailor a plan to your individual needs.

If you’re not ready to come off antidepressants – or you have tried and that hasn’t worked for you – that’s fine too. Your GP may recommend switching to tricyclic antidepressants rather than SSRIs, as these are thought to have fewer complications.

If you stay on your regular medication, you may be offered additional scans during pregnancy to check on your baby’s development.

What Do Mums Say?

Previously blogging on HuffPost UK, mum and neonatal nurse Louise Parry said taking antidepressants during pregnancy was the right decision for her, because without them she felt she was at risk of suicide.

“Continuing to take the antidepressants during pregnancy wasn’t a decision that I made lightly,” she wrote. “One the one hand I was wracked with guilt at the thought of the potential harm that I could be causing my unborn baby, and I tortured myself by reading medical publications investigating the effects of maternal use of antidepressants on foetal development.

“At the same time I was angry at anyone who claimed that the risks of taking antidepressants far outweighed the benefits to the mother, and that any woman who chose to take any medications during pregnancy was putting their needs above the life of their baby.”

Writer and mum Hayley Carter also wrote that taking antidepressants while breastfeeding was the right decision for her. “You can take antidepressants when you are breastfeeding, I know, because I recently did it – and guess what? It turns out me and my baby are fine,” she wrote.

“If you are reading this post and worried about taking antidepressants during pregnancy or when breastfeeding, please talk to your doctor. Your baby needs you to be well. And you need you to be well too.”