New research shows that use of antidepressants while breastfeeding does not interfere with the baby’s health, offering some peace of mind for new mothers struggling with psychiatric issues.
Dr. Luke Grzeskowiak, a researcher at the University of Adelaide in Australia and lead author of the study, said that women who remain on antidepressants are also more successful at breastfeeding their babies compared to those who stop taking their medication. "The amount of antidepressant medication that finds its way into a mother's breast milk is very low,” he explained in a press release. “On the balance of it, we believe that continuing to take antidepressant medication and maintaining regular breastfeeding will be the best outcome for both the baby and the mother."
The study, which was presented at the annual meeting of the Perinatal Society of Australia and New Zealand, used data from the Danish National Birth Cohort — an exhaustive sample of over 100,000 pregnant women and the children resulting from the pregnancies. Grzeskowiak and colleagues isolated 368 subjects who reported being on antidepressants prior to their pregnancy. They then looked at factors like adherence to medication, breastfeeding success, and child health during the pregnancy and over the months following delivery.
The team found that two-thirds of the women stopped taking their medication, either during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Compared to those who remained on antidepressants, these women were significantly less likely to maintain breastfeeding up to and beyond the recommended six months.
Antidepressants and Breastfeeding
Over the past 20 years, use of antidepressants has surged, with approximately one in 10 U.S. adults taking drugs like SSRIs. For women ages 40 to 50, the figure is one in four. The debilitating condition can exacerbate existing medical complications and lead to short-term disability, decreased productivity, and work absenteeism.
Besides promoting the child’s health, continued use of antidepressants may ultimately benefit the mother as well, Grzeskowiak explained.
"This is a really important message because we know that breastfeeding has immense benefits for the child and the mum herself, including a degree of protection against post-natal depression," he told reporters. "If they're taking antidepressants, they should be supported and encouraged by family members, friends and healthcare professionals to continue with their medication, knowing that good breastfeeding outcomes are all-important for them and their child."