Depression is a serious mental illness — one that affects more than 15 million adults in the U.S.
For some women, pregnancy can bring about new depression symptoms, or worsen existing ones. However, before going to your doctor for an antidepressant prescription, you should know the very real risks that these drugs carry.
A study, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and published in the journal BMJ, has linked Prozac (aka paroxetine) and Paxil (aka fluoxetine), two popular antidepressants, to a higher risk of birth defects.
According to the study’s authors these results “suggest that some birth defects occur 2–3.5 times more frequently among the infants of women treated with paroxetine or fluoxetine early in pregnancy.”
This study was quite large in scale, and included just under 19,000 mothers of babies born with birth defects, and just under 10,000 mothers of babies born without any birth defects.
Twelve years’ worth of information was analyzed for the study — in the timeframe between 1997 and 2009.
Specifically, the study linked both Prozac and Paxil to a higher risk of heart defects in infants. Prozac was also linked to a misshapen skull in infants, and Paxil was linked to anencephaly (missing parts of the skull and brain), as well as to intestines protruding outside of a baby’s body at birth. Scary stuff, indeed.
On the risk of birth defects with these two drugs, the study’s lead author and epidemiologist with the CDC National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Jennita Reefhuis, PhD, stated, “It is doubling or more in some cases, but you have to keep in mind that a doubling of a small risk is still a small risk.”
For example, the risk of anencephaly was found to rise from 2 in 10,000 to 7 in 10,000 babies with the mother’s use of Paxil before or during their first trimester.
However, for mothers whose wish is to give their babies the best possible chance of being healthy at birth — and throughout their lives — even a small escalation in risk can be very frightening. It is especially worrying that currently in the United States, as many as 1 in 33 babies is born with some type of birth defect.
Additionally, antidepressants such as Prozac carry many other risks.
Prozac can accumulate in the body, and has been linked with neurological side effects including muscular tics and spasms, as well as Parkinson’s-like symptoms. Does this sound like something that should be in anyone’s body?
Also, while the other antidepressants tested by the new CDC study — Zoloft, Lexapro, and Celexa — were not linked with a higher risk of birth defects, that does not mean they are safe. In the case of any pharmaceutical, what we do not know can hurt us — and future research may uncover risks that we are currently unaware of.
When it concerns a developing baby, it is a risk that most mothers may wish to think twice about taking.
Of course, this does not mean that depression should be ignored, or taken lightly. It is a serious condition that can affect many aspects of both physical and mental health, and if a mother suffers, her baby may suffer too.
However, it is definitely worth looking into natural methods to tackle depression — whether you are pregnant or not — before going the pharmaceutical route.
One factor that can be a significant game-changer is your diet. There is a documented connection between a deficiency in niacin, also known as vitamin B3, and depression.
Eating more foods rich in niacin, such as leafy green veggies, almonds, beans, turnips, carrots, wild-caught fish and grass-fed meats may help a lot. Nixing processed foods may also prove to be highly beneficial to your mood.
Another factor can be time spent outside in nature. It seems like such a simple thing, but most of us spend way too much time indoors, away from the healing power of nature, and the natural vitamin D provided by the sun’s rays.
Even if you think it won’t help, on a nice day, try taking a walk in the sun for 30 minutes to an hour and see if your depression lifts. The power of “ecotherapy” is not to be underestimated!
If you make it a brisk walk, the endorphins that your body releases in response to the exercise may help a lot too.
There are many other natural methods that may help to tackle depression, including herbs such as roseroot; however, be sure to talk to a health professional you trust first, especially if you are pregnant.
Weighing all of your options with a caring health provider can help you to make the right choice for you and your baby, to manage your depression symptoms as effectively and safely as possible.