It’s difficult enough confronting the reality that you may suffer from clinical depression, generalized anxiety disorder, or panic disorder. But what happens when you become pregnant? It may not be necessary to discontinue mental health treatment. Fortunately, it appears that certain medications do not pose a threat to your pregnancy—or the health of your baby.

Prenatal Care and Mental Health

A study, which included over 2,600 pregnant women, was conducted out of Yale University. The team was lead by professor Kimberly Yonkers, an expert in psychiatry and reproductive sciences. What they discovered was that low-dose use of certain psychiatric medications during pregnancy was only associated with slight risks. Their research showed no evident cause-and-effect results.
Certain mental health conditions require psychiatric medication. Professor Yonkers advocates the continuance of treatment (for depression, anxiety, and panic disorder) during pregnancy. She also suggests, “Women should work with their doctors to find the lowest possible dosages,” along with other best prenatal care practices. Those, of course, would be: eating a healthy diet, exercising, and avoiding recreational drugs, alcohol, and smoking.
The associated risks that the study found with benzodiazepines was slightly lower birth weights and minor respiratory treatment directly after birth (that was for 61 cases out of 1,000.) Benzos are often prescribed for anxiety and panic disorder and include: Xanax, Valium, and Ativan, among others.
SRIs such as: Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft (commonly prescribed for depression) were associated with a one-to-two day shortened gestation period. Antidepressant use among pregnant women linked 53 out of 1,000 cases to high blood pressure-related issues.

Alternatives for Best Mental Health

Practically speaking, no woman wants to put the health of her baby at risk. The published results of this particular study is meant to put pregnant women’s mind at ease—especially those who have psychiatric conditions and are treated (and helped) with medication.
Untreated anxiety in pregnant women may have other adverse effects on the baby. There is evidence that elevated levels of cortisol in the mother can affect the fetal brain. Chronic stress creates inflammation, which in turn has shown to create subtle differences in brain development in the baby.
Some women with a mental health diagnosis can attest to the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) during pregnancy to relieve both anxiety and depression. Other experts highly recommend yoga and meditation in order to assist with deep breathing for further relaxation. Always check in with your health practitioner before making changes to your treatment. And check out other articles on GetThrive for health tips for you and your family.
JAMA Psychiatry, September 13, 2017.