Why I Stayed On Anti-Depression Meds During Pregnancy, Breastfeeding And Beyond

I saw a commercial the other day that should have scared the piss out of me. It was one of those low-budget, lame graphics, stern voiceover spots calling all “victims” to a class-action law suit. This particular suit is for mothers who took one of many listed anti-depressant medications during her pregnancy and gave birth to a baby with … um, I’m not even sure. That’s how little attention I devoted to the screen, even though I am a mother who took an anti-depressant during both of my pregnancies and subsequent breastfeeding years.

My history with the class of drugs called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) had been relatively brief at the time my husband and I felt we were ready to start trying for a baby. But the era that the drugs ended, one of constant anxiety and relentless panic attacks, had lasted far too long. I was terrified at the thought of possibly going back to the fear-based life I had lived for so many years, but obviously worried about what effects this medication might have on a developing fetus.

As usual, internet research (I know, why did I even bother?) was inconclusive and my attempts at anecdotal discovery were futile. My very caring and honest psychiatrist didn’t feel she had enough knowledge on the subject to provide me with a recommendation either way, so she referred me to a shrink who specialized in reproductive psychiatry. Learning that such a specialty existed helped remind me that I wasn’t the first woman to face this question. It also meant there had to be a body of research on the topic. This was the start of my relief.

The goodness continued at our meeting with the doctor. She listened as I recited my abridged life history and asked all of the questions I hoped she’d ask. What are your panic triggers? (A: Mostly physical.) How would you characterize your attacks? (A: Severe.) Have you experienced bouts of depression? (A: A few.) After speaking with my husband and me for an hour, this doctor concluded that I would very likely relapse, so to speak, if I stopped taking the medicine. She reasoned that the negative effects of depression and a near-constant pounding of stress hormones on a growing baby would be far worse than anything that 100 daily mg’s of Zoloft could do.

Instinct had been telling me all along that staying on the medication was the right thing to do, but receiving such unequivocal advice from an expert really sealed the deal for me. Actually, I take that back. It was later that same day, while I was sitting on our roof deck and crying out of frustration, wishing that this didn’t need to be a concern of mine. I consciously opened my heart and mind to the wisdom of the Universe and asked for guidance. A few minutes later, there was just one thought at the front of my brain: “Your baby will be okay. Keep yourself healthy.”

Pregnancy, and the months immediately following, can be the most physically and emotionally demanding period in a woman’s life. Because a mother’s health is her baby’s first line of defense, she should do what needs to be done in order to safeguard her well-being. I was definitely given a fair amount of crap from various sources for my decision to stay on medication, but my faith in my decision was strong.

Thankfully, both of our children were born healthy and complication-free. I realize there is no guarantee that some yet-to-be-discovered long-term side effect won’t pop up in the future, but know I did the right thing for myself and my children. Like it or not, I’m a better mother because of the medicine I take, and that’s been true from the very beginning of my parenting journey.

(Photo: Afina_ok/Shutterstock)

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  • Penelope

    Good for you!

    It’s important for mommy AND baby to be healthy and well. While TTC and taking Klonopin for severe panic disorder, I went through the guilt of all the ‘what-if’s’ and it really hurt. I finally decided that a mentally healthy mommy was the best thing I could do for my baby.

    Thank you for sharing a brave story!

  • Jodi

    I am only trying to get pregnant, but I have seen those commercials and they scare me too. I have tried going off my anti-depressants, but my panic attacks came back worse than ever. I feel I don’t have a choice but to be on meds. Thanks for story, and for counter-acting a little bit of the terror those commercials cause!

  • becca

    I went off of Paxil as soon as I found out I was pregnant, and then waited way too long before finally going on Zoloft. Been on it through a month of pregnancy and a year of breastfeeding and had no regrets. Pregnancy was driving me crazy (literally).

  • angela arsenault

    thank you, penelope and jodi, for adding your voices here. as i was told by the specialist we talked to, “nobody would expect an epileptic to go off her anti-seizure meds during her pregnancy.” words like “panic attack” and “depression” are overused to the point of being meaningless, but to those of us who actually experience these things, they are terrifying and even dangerous.

  • angela arsenault

    thank you, penelope and jodi, for adding your voices here. as i was told by the specialist we saw, “nobody would expect an epileptic to go off her anti-seizure meds during pregnancy.” words like “panic attack” and “depression” are overused to the point of being meaningless, but to those of us who actually experience these things, they are terrifying and even dangerous.

  • Emily

    Thank you for sharing this. After 4 years of mental instability and almost a year of my daughter’s life, I took my first Zoloft this morning. Scared to take the step, but stories like yours help me feel better. Like a previous poster said, “A mentally healthy mommy was the best thing”

    • angela arsenault

      i was so scared the first few days of medicine-taking, too. stick with it, and remember that you’re fighting for your health and the health of your little one.

  • Cath

    I take 1/2 a pill of Cipralex each day and have done since my daughter was about 13 months old (nursed her until 21 months).

  • Blabby

    Thank you so much for writing this article, and thank you Mommyish for publishing it. While I openly shared all my pregnancy questions and discomforts with other pregnant friends, I was always hesitant to disclose that I was continuing to take an antidepressant throughout pregnancy. It was a difficult decision, and one that followed a protracted and ultimately failed attempt to wean off Paxil before TTC (anxiety and depression inevitably returned), but I think continuing to take Paxil throughout my pregnancy and into the postpartum period was the best possible choice for my child. I finally realized that in order to have a healthy, happy baby, she needed a healthy, happy Mommy first. And for all my worries, my daughter was born full-term and perfectly healthy. Of course the more you can limit medication during pregnancy, the better, but for women who suffer from anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, it is important for them to know there are treatment options available to them.

  • Julie

    I was tapered off Zoloft becoming drug free for the last month of pregnancy. I really wanted to be off because I know how withdrawal from it feels and didn’t want LO to start out life with brain zaps and light headedness like I have experienced when late with a dose. We went very very slowly, from 100mg to 12.5mg. Not saying you were wrong to stay on, just that it is possible to wean Now, two weeks after giving birth and BFing, everyone s watching me closely for PPD. I cry a little every day, but I think that’s normal. My midwife says that Zoloft shows up in only trace amounts in breast milk according to Hale, so i can go back on if i need to. Only thing we did during the pregnancy was have a fetal echo sonogram, which went fine. LO was born with two tiny holes in the wall between the chambers of his heart, but the Drs say it should resolve itself within a year. When those commercials came on, I got upset too. That was their intention.

  • Blabby

    Thank you for writing this and thank you to Mommish for publishing it. As someone who tried to unsuccessfully wean off my anti-depressant before TTC and ended up taking 20 mg of Paxil throughout my pregnancy, I spent a lot of time worrying and researching on the internet. I often wondered if I was doing the right thing, but in the end, in consultation with my doctor, I decided that in order to give my baby the best possible start, she needed to have a happy, healthy Mommy first. Thankfully she was born full term and perfectly healthy and is now a thriving 6 month old. There is a lot of fear-mongering out there and it’s good to hear rational, realistic voices as part of the mix. Of course minimizing drug exposure is something we all strive for, but for people who suffer from depression and anxiety, these medications are life savers, often literally. Women don’t have to choose between their health and that of their baby– the two are intimately connected.

  • Wendy

    It’s important to note that everyone should talk to their doctor as the number of drugs that are available for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and others is so large. What’s okay for one person is not necessarily okay for another.

    I’m 22 weeks pregnant on a low dose of antipsychotic (Seroquel) for bipolar disorder, and although it doesn’t cross the placenta, I won’t be able to breastfeed. I’m a bit gutted, but I know for baby’s sake, it’s more important that I have the ability after she’s born to continue with and increase my medication under the care of a qualified perinatal psychiatrist.

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  • Jozie

    My boyfriends mom took anti depression pills and two of her baby’s came out with cleft lip and one came out with a small hand he didn’t have fingers.. So I wouldn’t take no chance with depression medicine..