The Harm of A One-Sided Story: Antidepressants and Pregnancy

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antidepressants pregnancyNothing infuriates me like ignoring the facts. Presenting only one side of the story.

I hate it when people do that about maternal mental illness.  This week, there was a study that came out on the use of antidepressants during pregnancy. The study authors presented a very specific set of facts and ignored others. Here is the conclusion of the study, published in the journal Human Reproduction, that they used in their abstract:

Antidepressant use during pregnancy is associated with increased risks of miscarriage, birth defects, preterm birth, newborn behavioral syndrome, persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn and possible longer term neurobehavioral effects. There is no evidence of improved pregnancy outcomes with antidepressant use.

What does that say to you? It says don’t take antidepressants during pregnancy because they won’t help you and they’ll hurt your baby. This conveniently leaves out a lot of other important information.

When interviewed about the study, the authors then said, oh but we don’t want people to quit cold turkey. (Notice, they don’t say we don’t want people to quit antidepressants, just not cold turkey. Just go ahead and taper off and deal with it if you have a depression relapse.)  They also said, oh but women with severe depression during pregnancy may still need them. (I ask, what’s severe enough for them? When you’re right about to kill yourself?)

Sorry. You can tell me all you want that moms should make decisions on a case-by-case basis with their doctors, and then I’ll point you right back to your own abstract quoted above, which might as well say to mothers, do whatever is best for you but then deal with the consequences ladies because this stuff doesn’t work and it may cause you to lose your baby or have a baby with a birth defect. That’s what they want you to know.

If they had wanted you to look at all of the risks and benefits of taking or not taking antidepressants during pregnancy, to be aware of all the data available, to be able to make an informed decision, they would have looked at all the risks and benefits themselves. They didn’t.

Anyway, the whole thing makes me mad because I know how much this affects women. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before. The media always jumps on negative stories about antidepressants. Just read Lauren Hale’s blog post from 2009 on a story about antidepressants and pregnancy that appeared in Vogue magazine, for another example.

Walker Karaa, who writes for Lamaze’s Giving Birth With Confidence blog, did a story on the study this week. She interviewed the authors, and she interviewed experts on reproductive psychiatry. My favorite part of her piece is when she talks to Adrienne Einarson of Motherisk about all the things wrong with the science of the study.  There are more than a few.

I’ve chosen to take a look at what the study authors curiously left out over at my Something Fierce column on Babble. They left out studies finding that depression during pregnancy can negatively affect babies when it goes untreated. No one has said taking antidepressants during pregnancy is risk free. I certainly never have. But some of the risks people cite have not been proven out. And there are risks to not treating antenatal depression too. And yes, some women with depression during pregnancy will do just fine with cognitive therapy. I’ve said that. I’ve reported on acupuncture’s promising data. But let’s not confuse the issue of other treatment modalities effectively helping some women with using selective data that misleads.

I also wanted to take a look at how the media’s insistence on jumping all over any bad stories about antidepressants can hurt women. I think that’s SO important. I wish I could have included all of my readers’ input in my Babble story, because I received scores of comments. I encourage you to go read all of them on our Facebook page.

I hope you’ll read my piece at Babble. I published it there because I want the wider parenting community to understand what goes on in the reporting of maternal mental health by the media. I hope you read the other pieces I’ve linked to as well. And as more things get written about this, and I’m sure they will, I’ll add links to them here too.

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About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

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  1. Thanks for this. I take Zoloft and I am on baby #2. I don’t think my panic attacks would be all that great for baby’s development either. I freaked out when I saw a commercial about a lawsuit against Zoloft regarding pregnant mothers. My Dr. said almost the same thing you did: they aren’t giving you all the facts, and they are trying to scare you.

  2. Thank you for this! I’m pregnant with baby #2 and am still on my antidepressant after a scary bout of PPA & PPD with baby #1. I’m fully confident that this is the right decision for me and my baby. The sad thing is that if I didn’t experience what I did, then I’d totally be on the author’s side of this study, and would have been a judgemental jerk about moms who get necessary treatment. Now I’m on the other side, and I’m so thankful that I’m allowed to feel great during this second pregnancy!

  3. You hit the nail on the head!!! More and more recently, I see the lawsuit commercials from lawyers who say “We can help you if Zoloft during pregnancy caused birth defects” and I want to scream. No WONDER so many women are reluctant to take medication for prenatal depression. As though the myth that “You’re supposed to be happy and glowing during pregnancy” (yeah right… glowing with sweat!) isn’t hard enough to cope with when you’re fighting depression, let’s just throw in these commercials that cite this kind of study and make it seem like you’re guaranteeing your baby will be harmed if you take medication.

    I keep trying to write a post about the commercials and every time, I get so mad I can’t get out anything resembling a complete sentence. Thankyouthankyouthankyou for writing this. <3