Upon learning she is pregnant, a women's primary concern is often the health of her unborn child. But that doesn't mean a mom-to-be should stop addressing her own health needs. Yet many women choose to stop taking their antidepression medication when they are expecting, and the results can send pregnant women into a downward spiral that is bad for both them and baby.
That was the case for Mary Guest, whose tragic story was written up in the New York Times Magazine. Guest had suffered from severe depression in her past, but stopped taking her meds for fear of harming her growing fetus. But as the months went on, she began to believe that something was wrong with her unborn child, no matter how many tests to check the fetus' heath were administered.
"We could see her spiraling downward," Guest's mother, Kristen, told The Times. "The really irrational obsession, the inability to see otherwise, tormented her. Her doctor tried to reassure her. But that was being rational, and rational wasn't where she was."
Near the end of her fifth month of pregnancy, Guest reluctantly got back on her medications. Several weeks later, she jumped from the 16th floor of the building where her parents live. She was just over six months pregnant.
While there is much talk about postpartum depression, far less recognized is an equally troubling condition: antenatal depression, or depression suffered during pregnancy. The Times reports that it affects up to 15 percent of expectant women.
"Every woman I treat who has depression would love to be off her medication," said Elizabeth Fitelson, the director of the women's program in Columbia University's department of psychiatry. "They're taking it for a reason."
The SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) are among the most-studied drugs in pregnancy; the literature contains reports on more than 30,000 cases and indicates that they do not cause a clinically significant risk of major birth defects, according to The Times.
So if you're suffering depression during pregnancy, talk to your doctor and know that the best course of action may be to keep taking your antidepression medication.