The myths and old-wives' tales associated with pregnancy are numerous, varied, and mostly harmless. But one common belief — that pregnancy protects women from depression — is untrue, say researchers from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts; the University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine; and Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
In this study, researchers followed 201 pregnant women who had been treated for depression with antidepressant medications prior to becoming pregnant. At the start of the study, the women provided detailed information about their past experiences with depression. The women also chose to keep taking antidepressant medications throughout pregnancy, increase or decrease their dosages, or discontinue the medicines altogether. Every month, the pregnant women met with researchers to answer questions about their mood and the amount of medications they'd been taking.
For many women in the study, pregnancy wasn't such a joyous time — 43% of women had relapses of depression during pregnancy. One quarter of the women who continued taking the same amount of antidepressant medication relapsed during pregnancy. In comparison, though, 68% of women who stopped taking antidepressants experienced depression relapses. Compared with women who continued to take their medication, women who stopped taking antidepressants during pregnancy relapsed much more frequently.
Women who were married and women older than 32 had reduced rates of depression relapse during pregnancy. However, women who had previously experienced longer and more frequent periods of depression had a significantly higher risk of relapsing during pregnancy.
What This Means to You
Women with a history of depression may be prone to relapse during pregnancy, especially if they discontinue their medication, according to this study. But deciding whether to continue antidepressants often proves a difficult decision for pregnant women, because some of these medications have been associated with problems such as low birth weight, prematurity, and withdrawal symptoms in newborns. If you have depression, take antidepressant drugs, and are pregnant or thinking about conceiving a child, talk to your doctor about your mental health history. He or she can help you decide the best way to manage your depression during pregnancy while reducing the risk of side effects for your baby.
Source: Lee S. Cohen, MD; Lori L. Altshuler, MD; Bernard L. Harlow, PhD; Ruta Nonacs, MD, PhD; D. Jeffrey Newport, MD; Adele C. Viguera, MD; Rita Suri, MD; Vivien K. Burt, MD, PhD; Victoria Hendrick, MD; Alison M. Reminick, BA; Ada Loughead, BA; Allison F. Vitonis, BA; Zachary N. Stowe, MD; Journal of the American Medical Association, February 1, 2006.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: March 2006