Are Antidepressants Safe for Pregnant and Breastfeeding Mothers?

Would it shock you to learn that antidepressants are one of the most commonly prescribed medications for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers?

But the potentially deadly side effects aren’t commonly known. It’s been my experience and observation that antidepressants are dispensed with little more caution than aspirin. They’re the fix for everything from fibromyalgia to job loss—take two and call me in the morning.

In too many cases, we could be trading illness and hardship for tragedy.

My colleague Julie Prince writes of Andrea Yates, the young mother convicted of murdering her five children.

During her last hospital visit after the birth of her baby, the doctor decided to stop her medication altogether and sent her home to “think positive thoughts” and follow up with a psychologist.

It was during this time that Andrea decided she was going to carry out what she had been thinking about—thoughts that had haunted her for two years. She filled the bathtub with water and drowned all five of her children. The tragic events gripped a nation with unbelievable grief and questions about how and why this happened.

How and why did this happen? Those questions have never been fully answered. I can’t pretend to have all the answers. But there is one place the mainstream media is afraid to look.

I’m not dismissing the realities of postpartum depression or serious mental illness. That said, what is too often not looked at closely is the state of psychiatric care. The current standard is more pharmacology than psychology.

Most antidepressants pose a real potential for dangerous side effects when abruptly stopped or doses are changed. One common practice for avoiding these issues is to add a new drug to counter the side effects. If this continues, a dangerous cocktail of very powerful, mind-altering medications are being administered daily.

Yates was taking the antidepressant Effexor. Daren Savage explains:

In November 2005, more than four years after Yates drowned her children, Effexor manufacturer Wyeth Pharmaceuticals quietly added “homicidal ideation” to the drug’s list of “rare adverse events.” The Medical Accountability Network, a private nonprofit focused on medical ethics issues, publicly criticized Wyeth, saying Effexor’s “homicidal ideation” risk wasn’t well-publicized and that Wyeth failed to send letters to doctors or issue warning labels announcing the change. And what exactly does “rare” mean in the phrase “rare adverse events?” The FDA defines it as occurring in less than one in 1.000 people. But since that same year 19.2 million prescriptions for Effexor were filled in the U.S., statistically that means thousands of Americans might experience “homicidal ideation” – murderous thoughts – as a result of taking just this one brand of anti-depressant drug. Effexor is Wyeth’s best-selling drug, by the way, which in one recent year brought in over $3 billion in sales, accounting for almost a fifth of the company’s annual revenues. [Emphasis mine.]

Mental illness is real. Postpartum depression is real. It’s important that we are careful to weigh the real risks involved. If this drug can alter an adult mind so drastically, what can it do to a developing mind?

The sad truth is, we won’t know until this generation is old enough to tell us.