Depression during pregnancy is difficult to manage as hormonal changes in the body can trigger a wide range of emotions. If left untreated, it can have harmful effects on both the mum and the baby.
The mum may be listless. She may not have enough energy to look after herself and attend the antenatal visits regularly. She may not bother about her own nutritional needs and may even indulge in smoking or drinking. The baby may be born prematurely with low birth weight and may have difficulty bonding with the mum who may have postpartum depression.
Taking antidepressants is the definitive treatment. But like many other medications, there are concerns on the safety profiles. Many antidepressants, especially the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are generally safe. The risks of birth defects and other health problems are very low.
Reported risks for the baby include:
• Persistent pulmonary hypertension in the new born which is a serious condition of the blood vessels of the lungs.
• Heart defects
• Deformities of the nervous system, the abdominal organs and limbs
• Low birth weight
For the use of antidepressants, your psychiatrist and obstetrician will help you make a decision based on the balance between risks and benefits.
If they feel that you can stop taking antidepressants during pregnancy, they will wean you off gradually as sudden stoppage of the drug would put you at risk of a relapse. Stopping an SSRI abruptly might cause various signs and symptoms, including: nausea, vomiting, chills, fatigue, anxiety and irritability.
If you do have to take antidepressant throughout the pregnancy, you should be aware that your baby might have temporary withdrawal symptoms like jitters or irritability at birth.