It's long been thought that taking anti-depressants while pregnancy is relatively safe, posing very little risk to babies when moms take them during pregnancy. But a new research study from Canada—on over 18,000 women—revealed that taking these medications increases the risk of birth defects enough to cause concern.
Before jumping to any conclusions, we asked one of our health experts Dr. Eva Selhub—a medical doctor known for her expertise in lifestyle change and balanced and realistic approach to pharmaceuticals—to weigh in on this new information and share with us what she would recommend to her patients grappling with this complex issue.
Taking care of mom and baby.
Anti-depressants can be harmful during pregnancy because they can interfere with serotonin uptake by the fetus, and serotonin is essential for the development of embryonic cell growth—specifically during the first trimester. But according to Dr. Selhub, if the depression is severe enough, the stress it can cause could be more detrimental than the medication itself. For these patients, she would continue the medication and make sure to avoid specific drugs that have demonstrated higher potential for defects.
For mild or moderate depression Dr. Selhub usually recommends avoiding anti-depressants (at least during the first trimester) and encourages her patients to adopt some gentle, more holistic treatment options like cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, mild exercise, and nature therapy—all of which can help regulate emotions, decrease stress, and encourage positive moods.
What are the risks, exactly?
According to this new study, the risk of birth defects in women taking depressants are about eight to ten percent, compared to three to five percent for those that are not on them. And while this may not seem like much, researchers and scientists say that it's enough of an increase to think twice about it—especially since about 20 percent of the women included in the study were on some kind of anti-depressant during the first three months of their pregnancy.
It's important to also consider that many researchers question the true efficacy of anti-depressants, which have only shown marginal benefits in many studies. And other organizations have been urging providers to give women more information on this issue, so that they don't just assume it's safe.
The conclusion here is that this should be decided on a case-by-case basis, with concern for the safety of both mom and baby. And like most things when it comes to health, knowing the facts is everything so that you can make the best decision for you.