Depression in pregnancy and the postpartum period: balancing adverse effects of untreated illness with treatment risks

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The author reviews the risks and benefits of untreated maternal depression during pregnancy and the postnatal period and its effects on the well-being of the mother and infant. She then discusses the significant role psychiatrists can play in detecting and managing maternal depression as a primary measure for preventing future child psychopathology. A literature search was conducted on PubMed to identify both preclinical and clinical studies concerning deleterious effects of maternal depression on offspring. Additional searches focused on available safety data concerning the use of antidepressants during pregnancy and lactation. Key search items included depression during pregnancy, postpartum depression, lactation, and antidepressants. Burgeoning evidence was found concerning the adverse effects of maternal depression on the developing fetus and infant in the perinatal period. No controlled studies on the safety of antidepressant use in pregnancy and lactation were found; therefore, case reports, and some retrospective and prospective case series, must serve as guidelines for the treating clinician. Each case of maternal depression needs to be evaluated on an individual basis and decisions about treatment interventions should involve both the patient and family. Maternal depression during pregnancy and the postnatal period is associated with a significant disease burden in that it affects not only the mother but may also have both short- and long-term effects on offspring. Therefore, early detection and management of maternal depression, of which perinatal screening of mothers is an important component, are warranted.


Journal of Psychiatric Practice