September 18, 2017

For pregnant women with anxiety or depression, what are the risks to medicating?

For many pregnant women with depression, anxiety or panic disorders, medicating during pregnancy has long been considered a well-established taboo. The implied restriction comes from past studies that point toward a correlation between certain medications and birth defects in newborns.

Unfortunately, an alternative to curbing symptoms of mood disorder during pregnancy is nonexistent. 

New research conducted in part by Yale University psychiatrist and professor Dr. Kimberly Yonkers has taken a second look at the implications of drugs like Xanax or other psychoactive medications during pregnancy and seeks to understand the potential risks more concretely. 

In a study observing 2,654 women during pregnancy and after childbirth, Yonkers, along with two other collaborators from Yale, found that there were indeed some risks associated with the use of benzodiazepines (a class of psychoactive drug) and antidepressants during pregnancy, though they were not as damaging as may be widely believed.

For example, use of either benzodiazepines or antidepressants showed a correlation with slightly shorter pregnancies, with them averaging 3.6 days and almost 2 days shorter, respectively.

“It should be reassuring that we’re not seeing a huge magnitude of an effect here,” Yonkers told NPR

Nonetheless, newborn infants were more likely to need extra oxygen or other respiratory help after birth if their mothers had used those drugs during pregnancy, with an average of an additional six in every 100 babies in need of that extra support.

Overall, the study concluded that women who need treatment should not stop medicating during pregnancy. Additionally, pregnant women shouldn’t worry about their panic or anxiety disorder being detrimental to the fetus’ development in the womb.

“We found that the maternal illnesses of panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder were not associated with preterm birth or low birth weight or some of the other complications to mother and her offspring,” Yonkers told NPR.

View the full report at JAMA Psychiatry