"Looking back, I probably should have gone on antidepressants the first time," says Amy Sky, 47, of Toronto, who had severe postpartum depression after giving birth to each of her two children. "I didn't know what they would do to the baby. I was completely afraid of drugs. I was afraid of aspirin."
Antidepressants' effect on a fetus
Some antidepressants seem to be safer than others. A recent study of the most commonly used antidepressants during pregnancy, SSRIs, found no significant risk of major birth defects, although these results are far from definitive. The researchers did, however, report some instances of three specific birth defects: a defect of the brain, a type of abnormal skull development, and a gastrointestinal abnormality. How much antidepressant medication passes on to the baby during breast-feeding is not certain, but experts say the effect seems to be minimal.
Sarah, 41, of New York City, suffered postpartum anxiety when her son was born. The psychiatrist she consulted prescribed Effexor, an SNRI (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor), and was aware of the scientific literature on the effects on antidepressants on nursing babies. "He advised me to give up breast-feeding if I took it because the drug could come through my breast milk. But breast-feeding my son seemed like the only thing I could do right as a mother," she says. Despite her husband's pleas that she to go on meds, Sarah endured the turmoil. After two months she decided to switch her son to formula and get relief from the drug.