There’s a huge amount of pressure on women to be the “best” pregnant women and the “best” mothers they can be—often with complete disregard for the mom/mom-to-be’s mental health.
One in 4 women take antidepressants in order to treat depression and other mental illnesses. Many of these women will also want, or be expected to, have children at some point in their lives. However, the stigma surrounding pregnant women who take antidepressants can pressure many women battling mental health issues into going off of their prescriptions.
Studies show that pregnancy hormones are no longer the miraculous happy drug they were once thought to be; in fact, some aspects of pregnancy can exacerbate existing mental health problems, and can pose a huge risk to both mother and child if left untreated. Some of the most common symptoms of depression include feelings of hopelessness and loss of motivation, which can then lead to spirals of guilt and stress. A pregnant woman experiencing these symptoms is not only at a disadvantage to taking care of herself; she also might not be fully able to make healthy choices for her baby. For example, “if you have untreated depression, you might not seek optimal prenatal care, eat the healthy foods you baby needs or have the energy to take care of yourself.”
As someone who has dealt with depression and other mental health issues for most of her life, I can vouch for the energy-sucking ugliness of the illness, as well as the subsequent worry and shame that can come along with it. I can also say how finding the correct cocktail of medications, combined with other self-help techniques, has drastically changed my way of coping and living with depression. While some women are able to handle their depression without medication, many cannot, and carrying a baby does not change this.
As of 2009, at least 13% of women took antidepressants during their pregnancy. According to Mayo Clinic, while no antidepressants have been proven to be completely risk-free during pregnancy, there are several options that seem to pose the lowest risks. These medications include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), bupropion, and tricyclic antidepressants. WebMD confirms that even medications that aren’t on that list, such as paroxetine (Paxil), are still “relatively low risk.” WebMD also claims “all pregnant women have an average 3% risk of having a baby with any type of birth defect in most cases.” Antidepressants can raise that risk another 1%, although some studies have shown that 1% is “on the high end” of the spectrum, meaning the usage of antidepressants during pregnancy could be even less likely to cause harm.
Ultimately, the decision to continue taking antidepressants during pregnancy lies between both the mother-to-be, and her doctor. I understand why many women might hesitate to continue taking their medication during pregnancy; the majority of mothers would never want to inflict any sort of harm upon their children.
However, if, like me, antidepressants are an essential part of maintaining your daily well being, doctors seem to be in unanimous agreement that going off of them during pregnancy may cause more bad than good. The pressure to be super mom can cause many women to feel as though they’re not living up to societal expectations of a healthy pregnant woman if they continue their Zoloft throughout pregnancy. I think if antidepressants are what keep you motivated to care for both yourself and your growing baby (and your treatment plan is approved by a doctor) it is well worth it to fall short of some arbitrary and potentially dangerous societal standards.