Most women who take antipsychotic medications while pregnant give birth to healthy babies, but research shows that in some cases problems do occur.
A new study finds the use of mood stabilizers or higher doses of antipsychotics during pregnancy increase the need for special care after birth with 43 percent of babies placed in a special care nursery or a neonatal intensive care unit.
Antipsychotic drugs affects babies in other ways as well: 18 percent were born prematurely, 37 percent showed signs of respiratory distress, and 15 percent developed withdrawal symptoms.
Published in the journal PLOS ONE, the study highlights the need for clearer health guidelines when antipsychotic drugs are taken during pregnancy, says principal investigator, Jayashri Kulkarni, director of the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Centre.
“There’s been little research on antipsychotic medication during pregnancy and if it affects babies. The lack of data has made it very difficult for clinicians to say anything conclusively on how safe it is for babies,” she says. “This new research confirms that most babies are born healthy, but many experience neonatal problems such as respiratory distress.”
Weigh the risks
With no existing data to draw on, researchers established the world-first National Register of Antipsychotic Medications in Pregnancy in 2005. Women who were pregnant and taking antipsychotic medication were recruited from around Australia through clinical networks in each state and territory. In all, 147 women were interviewed every six weeks during pregnancy and then followed until their babies were one year old.
Antipsychotic drugs are currently used to treat a range of psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia, major depression, and bipolar disorder. Women have much higher rates of anxiety disorders and there are equal percentages of men and women with schizophrenia (2 percent) and bipolar disorder (about 3 percent).
The emergence of new antipsychotic drugs means that many women with a well-controlled psychiatric disorder are able to contemplate having babies, but there have always been concerns about the effect of treatment on their offspring.
“The potentially harmful effects of taking an antipsychotic drug in pregnancy have to be balanced against the harm of untreated psychotic illness. The good news is we now know there are no clear associations with specific congenital abnormalities and these drugs,” Kulkarni says.
Source: Monash University