According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 11% of all Americans over the age of 12 take antidepressant medications and most of them are female. For every one American male taking antidepressants, there are 2.5 females taking them.
Many women stop taking these important medications when they become pregnant or when they begin breastfeeding, with the understanding that it's better for the baby to go without these drugs. This may not be the case, though, according to the findings of a study presented in Perth, Australia, at the 18th Perinatal Society of Australia and New Zealand Annual Conference. The study findings indicate it might be better for the baby if mom continues taking antidepressants during breastfeeding than not breastfeeding at all.
Women who continue taking their antidepressants while breastfeeding are more likely to nurse longer than women suffering depression who are not taking the necessary medications. Dr. Luke Grzeskowiak, of the University of Adelaide's Robinson Research Institute, says women who stop taking antidepressants for the sake of breastfeeding often stop breastfeeding sooner than medically desired.
In Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere, the recommendation is to feed a baby breast milk exclusively for a minimum of six months. Doing so brings many lifelong health benefits to the mother and the baby but some women feel they must choose between medication and breastfeeding. Some feel pressured by family, friends, and others to stop taking medication even though their doctor says its safe to continue, even while nursing.
Grzeskowiak says, "The amount of antidepressant medication that finds its way into a mother's breast milk is very low. On the balance of it, we believe that continuing to take antidepressant medication and maintaining regular breastfeeding will be the best outcome for both the baby and the mother.”
Grzeskowiak's recommendation is the result of a study of 368 women in Denmark who were taking antidepressants before getting pregnant. Two-thirds of them stopped antidepressant use after becoming pregnant or while breastfeeding. One-third continued antidepressant use throughout.
The one-third who maintained steady antidepressant use were "much more successful at maintaining breastfeeding" for six months or longer. The women who discontinued antidepressant use were more likely to stop nursing before the six-month goal.
Women who are depressed before pregnancy are at greater risk of postpartum depression afterward. When successful depression-control measures aren't maintained during pregnancy, a woman is more likely to become too despondent to take adequate care of herself or her baby after its born.
Source: "Proof that antidepressants and breastfeeding can mix." University News & Events / Media Release. The University of Adelaide. Apr 10, 2014. Web. Apr 24, 2014.