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Explains what antidepressants are, how they work, possible side effects and information about withdrawal.
You might already be taking antidepressants when you become pregnant, or you might be offered antidepressants to treat a problem you develop during your pregnancy, or after giving birth, such as postnatal depression (PND).
If you are taking antidepressants, and you are planning a pregnancy or have become pregnant, you should discuss this with your GP. They will be able to give you more information about your options, and may refer you for specialist care.
"I developed severe postnatal depression and OCD just three days after the birth of my daughter. I was non-functioning, I couldn't even leave the house and was suicidal... [My antidepressant] really helped, and gave me the crutch I needed to function again. I really feel like it saved my life."
While you're pregnant, and after giving birth, it's important that you are well so that can look after yourself and your baby properly.
If not taking antidepressants would mean you would become unwell or be unable to cope, you may decide that the best thing for you and your baby is to continue taking them.
Ultimately, you will need to balance the possible risks to your baby against any potential harm in not taking your medication, and come to your own decision about what's best for you, based on your own experience.
It's understandable to feel conflicted about this, and you might find it helpful to seek extra support during this time.
"When I got pregnant I was terrified of not being able to look after a child in the mental state I was in. So I tried [antidepressants]. I couldn't function anywhere near as well till I had them."
The risks include:
All risks are likely to be higher during the first three months and last few weeks of your pregnancy, when your baby is more vulnerable.
If you feel you need to take antidepressants while pregnant or breastfeeding, you should discuss this with your doctor. They can advise you about which drugs carry fewer risks than others. For example:
Your GP (or psychiatrist if you have one) should also be in touch with the midwife or antenatal team managing your pregnancy, who may arrange extra scans to make sure everything is developing normally.
If you have experienced a mental health problem in the past, you might also have a higher risk of experiencing postnatal depression (PND) after you give birth. If you're worried that you might experience PND, it's worth discussing it with your doctor and midwife in advance, to make sure you have appropriate support in place.
There are a number of alternatives to antidepressants available.
If you don't want to take medication while pregnant or breastfeeding, your doctor should make every effort to help you access alternative treatments. With the right support, you might be able to manage your mental health without medication.
(See our information on coming off psychiatric drugs for guidance on how to come off your medication safely).
Coming to a decision you feel comfortable with about what's right for you and your baby can be difficult. You might find it helpful to explore these options for extra support:
You might also find it helpful to read our pages on Parenting with a mental health problem, which include information on helping yourself, looking after children and other kinds of support available.
This information was published in 2016. We will revise it in 2019.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.