Butterfly Confessions: How Writer, Advocate and Mother A’Driane Nieves Gives Birth With Confidence

 

I am excited to introduce A’Driane Nieves to the Giving Birth with Confidence community. A’Driane is a well-known blogger and maternal mental health advocate. Her artwork inspires, and her chronicle of her pregnancy is a testament to self-advocacy in prenatal care. By sharing her journey through pregnancy and motherhood with bipolar II disorder, A’Driane gives courage to all women to give birth with confidence.

 

Tell us a little about this pregnancy.

 This pregnancy, my third has been…physically overwhelming. It’s honestly been one for the books! Every symptom the first trimester was far more intense than what I’d experienced previously, especially my morning sickness and the withdrawal symptoms I was experiencing from having to stop my mood stabilizer (Lamictal) until my second trimester. I also struggled with hypotension, migraines, and severe symphysis pubis, which rendered me immobile most days and landed me on bed rest quite often these past 9 months. Since the beginning of my third trimester I’ve had fairly strong contractions daily-ones that are usually 3-4 minutes apart most of the day and force me to stop and breathe through. I ended up in labor and delivery twice and given various medications to try and stop them, often to no avail, which led to stricter bed rest and having to be put on a monitor every appointment. Like I said, this has definitely been one for books…

 

How do you approach giving birth with confidence with this birth?

This is the first birth that I feel like I actually prepared for mentally in terms of actually learning about the labor process, birthing methods, pain management, etc. With my previous two births, the bulk of my preparation was external, ensuring everything I needed to care for my sons after they were born was purchased and at the ready. I simply didn’t place much value or emphasis on the experience-I solely cared about the end result.

However, with this pregnancy, I took time to really reflect on my previous labor experiences and came to realize that I hated both of them. I found that because external circumstances had me living in survival mode, I went into both of my labors anxious, stressed out, and uneducated about the labor process and mentally unprepared to manage what I was experiencing physically during each one; back labor with my first, and five days of prodromal and early labor with my second. With this pregnancy I decided that while the end result (healthy baby) was still what mattered most to me, I did want to enjoy my labor and delivery as best I could.

To help facilitate this goal, I’ve read several books, articles, and blog posts on various birthing methods, and have pulled different aspects from each to use that I found appealing. I’ve researched & practiced breathing & relaxation techniques I could employ to manage not just the pains of labor but any anxiety I will most likely experience. I explored the idea of hiring a doula, and talked at great length with my husband about what kind of role he felt comfortable fulfilling during my labor and what kind of atmosphere he’d like us to have during the process. This was a first for me, because with my first labor, I was a single mom, and on my own. With my second, my husband and I were together, but we never discussed anything about labor or what “kind” of birth experience we could have. This time I’ve made sure to include him, which has helped us bond in a way we didn’t my last pregnancy.

Taking the time to inform myself of my options, and actually read what happens during labor has definitely helped me approach my upcoming birth with a sense of vigor and enthusiasm I haven’t experienced before. I’ve been able to communicate more with my OB confidently, and feel far more empowered as a patient…

 

How has taking care of mental health played a role in that?

While being prepared and informed mentally for the birthing process has been important to me this pregnancy, my top priority from the moment I saw the plus sign on the test has been to take care of myself mentally. As a woman with a history of PPD and currently living with rapid cycling bipolar II, anxiety & OCD, I’ve worked hard this pregnancy to ensure I have what I need to do that. From finding an OB with experience treating pregnant women with mood disorders, to finding new psychiatrist who is knowledgeable and up to date with treatment methods, to educating myself on what treatment and medication options are available to me, to attending talk therapy, I’ve fought hard this pregnancy to advocate for my mental health both during pregnancy and in the postpartum period. I’ve asked both my husband and closest friends to help me be aware to any shifts in mood they may notice that I don’t, and to tell me if they notice anything that concerns them during this time or in the days and months to come. I’ve read up on my risk for postpartum psychosis and have talked with other mothers who have experienced it to gain their insight and support. I have also made it a point to ramp up on my self-care, even during periods of depression this pregnancy. Painting, watching a favorite show, listening to music, reading, and even some days just forcing myself to shower-these are all things that have helped me manage my illness aside from medication and therapy these past nine months.

Reflecting on my previous birth experiences and how they impacted me mentally-especially my last where I experienced prodromal and early labor that went nowhere without augmentation-also empowered me this time to talk at great length with my OB about what my options are this time. I’ve expressed how triggering the physical strain of this pregnancy has been on me, and how triggering the end of my last pregnancy and labor was on my mentally. I stressed my desire to not go into this labor exhausted and drained mentally, and my fear that doing so would increase my chances of struggling in the postpartum period. After two weeks of cervical checks that saw no change in my cervix despite having regular, moderate-severe contractions, and other early labor symptoms, we decided last week that scheduling an induction would be best, as I expressed I was already starting to cycle between moods-mostly depressive, and had reached my limit physically. I love my OB because he heard me and took my mental health into account and not just that of the baby’s at this stage. I’m grateful that he was able to look at my maternal health, the baby’s health, and my mental health, and come to a decision that benefitted all three. Very grateful for that.

 

How has the blogging and online community offer you support?

I’m also incredibly grateful this pregnancy for the online support system I have this time around. I found my online tribe and place in the blogging community three years ago while battling PPD, and both my tribe and the blogging community at large have become a lifeline for me. Thanks to the blogging, I’ve met strangers who have become my sisters and confidants, and I’ve found my voice as an advocate. They help me stay informed, encourage me, hold me accountable to taking care of myself, and are there to listen and sit with me when needed. They’ve enabled me to have a strength and confidence this pregnancy that I didn’t previously and even though I know being a mother of 3 with a mental illness such as mine will be a challenge, it’s one I know I’m capable of succeeding at.

I go in for my induction on Tuesday 11/12 at 6am….and I can barely contain my excitement and relief :)

 

 

I know I speak for everyone in wishing A’Driane well as she welcomes this beautiful baby into the world!

 

A’Driane Nieves is a writer, painter, mental health advocate, and speaker. She blogs at butterfly-confessions.com. She also is a contributer at Postpartum Progress. You can follow A’Driane on Twitter @addyeB.

 

Maternal Mental Health: Pre-Existing Risk Factors for PTSD and Childbirth

In light of the horrific and tragic events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, Giving Birth with Confidence will be dedicating our posts this week to providing resources relating to mental health and wellness. Approximately 1.3 million women annually suffer from mental health disorders that occur during pregnancy and in the postpartum period. Perinatal and postpartum anxiety and mood disorders far outweigh the annual occurrence of several other major diseases combined. The key to finding help and treating mental health disorders is awareness; the more people who know how to spot warning signs and what to do to find help, the greater our possibility for better health.

 

 

This article is part of the Traumatic Birth Prevention & Resource Guide by PATTCh. Access the complete guide to learn more about traumatic birth and find resources for women and families.

By Heidi Koss, MA, LMHC

Health care providers aren’t exactly sure why some people get post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when exposed to a traumatic event while others do not. Post-traumatic stress disorder can develop when you go through, see or learn about an event that causes intense fear, helplessness or horror. Any trauma, including birth trauma, lies in the eye of the beholder. What one may perceive as traumatic might not be traumatic to others.

As with most mental health problems, PTSD is probably caused by a complex mix of:

  • Your inherited mental health risks, such as an increased risk of anxiety and depression
  • Your life experiences, including the amount and severity of trauma you’ve gone through since early childhood. PTSD can result from a cumulative effect of multiple traumas over a lifetime.
  • The inherited aspects of your personality — often called your temperament
  • The way your brain regulates the chemicals and hormones your body releases in response to stress

General Risk factors for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
People of all ages can have post-traumatic stress disorder. However, some factors increase risk of developing PTSD after a traumatic event, including:

  • Being female — women may be at increased risk of PTSD because they are more likely to experience the kinds of trauma that can trigger the condition.
  • Experiencing intense or long-lasting trauma
  • Having experienced other trauma earlier in life
  • Having other mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression
  • Lacking a good support system of family and friends
  • Having first-degree relatives with mental health problems, including PTSD and depression
  • History of abuse (such as childhood abuse, sexual abuse, rape)
  • Combat exposure
  • Physical attack
  • Being threatened with a weapon
  • Car accident, plane or train crash
  • Life threatening experience (such as natural disaster, critical injury, medical crisis, attack, mugging)

These symptoms should alert you to possible PTSD:

  • Flashbacks of the event — vivid and sudden memories
  • Nightmares
  • Insomnia
  • Fears of recurrence
  • Emotional numbing
  • Panic attacks
  • Inability to recall important aspects of the event — psychogenic amnesia
  • Exaggerated startle response, hyper-arousal, always on guard
  • Hyper-vigilance, constantly looking around for trouble or stressors
  • Avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event
  • Intense psychological stress at exposure to events that resemble the traumatic event

How is PTSD different than other Pregnancy and Postpartum Mood Disorders?
Sometimes perinatal mood disorders overlap and it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. PTSD is caused by an event in which you feel threatened, violated, and feel as if you could die. By the way our brain has processed the memory of the event, is causes heightened anxiety, hypervigilance, flashbacks, nightmares, etc. Therefore PTSD is an anxiety or stress reaction and it is different from other postpartum mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. However, other postpartum mood disorders can occur at the same time PTSD.

Resources
Recommended Books:

  • Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders, A Clinician’s Guide, by Cheryl Tatano Beck and Jeanne Watson Driscoll
  • Beyond the Birth, A Family’s Guide to Postpartum Mood Disorders, by Juliana Nason, Patricia Spach and Anna Gruen. Published by Postpartum Support International of WA
  • When Survivors Give Birth: Understanding and Healing the Effects of Early Sexual Abuse on Childbearing Women, by Penny Simkin and Phyllis Klaus

Useful Organizations & Websites:

Heidi Koss, MA, LMHCA is a psychotherapist in private practice in Redmond, WA specializing in pregnancy and postpartum mood disorders (PPMD), birth trauma, and parent adjustment issues. She has been the Executive Director of Postpartum Support International of Washington (PSI of WA), WA State Coordinator for Postpartum Support International as well as co-founder of the Northwest Association for Postpartum Support (NAPS). She offers consultant services and PPMD trainings. Heidi has also been a postpartum doula and certified lactation educator. Heidi is the proud mother of two beautiful daughters.

 

 

 

PATTCh is a not-for-profit, multidisciplinary organization dedicated to the prevention and treatment of traumatic childbirth. Our mission is to develop cross-disciplinary relationships, research, and programs that:

  • prevent PTSD following childbirth through education, interdisciplinary collaboration, and multidisciplinary research;
  • educate perinatal care providers and paraprofessionals in the prevention and treatment of birth and reproduction related trauma;
  • encourage the development of culturally appropriate therapeutic approaches to post-traumatic stress symptoms following childbirth;
  • promote healthy birth practices for all women and families;
  • promote evidence-based research regarding PTSD secondary to childbirth;
  • increase global awareness of the prevalence, risk factors, and effects of PTSD secondary to childbirth; and
  • support collaboration and understanding among all stake-holders, including: researchers, policy makers, medical and mental health care providers, educators, community members, volunteers, women, and families.

 

Maternal Mental Health: Daily Support Service for Mothers Who Suffer from Postpartum Disorders

In light of the horrific and tragic events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, Giving Birth with Confidence will be dedicating our posts this week to providing resources relating to mental health and wellness. Approximately 1.3 million women annually suffer from mental health disorders that occur during pregnancy and in the postpartum period. Perinatal and postpartum anxiety and mood disorders far outweigh the annual occurrence of several other major diseases combined. The key to finding help and treating mental health disorders is awareness; the more people who know how to spot warning signs and what to do to find help, the greater our possibility for better health.

Postpartum Progress (www.postpartumprogress.com), the most widely-read blog in the United States on postpartum depression, hosts a service to help pregnant and new mothers get through the difficulty of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

Daily Hope is the nation’s first support service featuring once-daily e-mails to mothers with postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD and antenatal depression or anxiety. This free service provides encouragement from survivors, the country’s top perinatal mental health specialists and authors of the leading books on perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and parenting.

Many of the nearly one million women who suffer each year do not have access to perinatal mental health specialists or PPD support groups where they live. “I hear from thousands of mothers across the country and around the world who say that having someone to lean on who deeply understands can contribute a great deal to their recovery process,” said Katherine Stone, founder of Postpartum Progress and survivor of postpartum OCD. “I felt Daily Hope would be a great way to use technology to offer mothers encouragement from the nation’s most trusted experts on their illnesses, regardless of where they live or what type of health insurance they have. The more support we can provide to women with postpartum depression, the better, because the quicker the recovery, the less likely the illness will have a long-term impact on mom and baby.”

Contributors to Daily Hope include, among many:

  • Karen Kleiman, MSW, author of “This Isn’t What I Expected: Overcoming Postpartum Depression”
  • Ann Dunnewold, PhD, author of “Life Will Never Be the Same: The Real Mom’s Postpartum Survival Guide” and “Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box”
  • Marlene Freeman, MD, MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health and Harvard University
  • Pamela Weigartz, author of “The Pregnancy & Postpartum Anxiety Workbook”
  • Susan Stone, LCSW, former president of Postpartum Support International
  • Janice Croze, co-founder of 5MinutesforMom.com and survivor of PPD
  • “Aunt Becky,” author of the blog Mommy Wants Vodka, founder of Band Back Together and survivor of antenatal depression
  • Adrienne Griffen, founder of Postpartum Support Virginia

To sign up (for free) and subscribe to Daily Hope, click here.

Postpartum Progress, founded in 2004, provides the most comprehensive, in-depth and accessible information available on perinatal mental illness for pregnant women and new mothers. Having already helped more than 350,000 women and healthcare providers, Postpartum Progress offers an unflinching look at getting through postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, postpartum psychosis, and antenatal depression & anxiety. Postpartum Progress has been named one of the top 10 depression blogs on the web by Psych Central, the winner of Fit Pregnancy’s Best of the Web Awards in the Advice category, and was a runner-up in Parenting’s Must-Read Moms and Scholastic Parent & Child’s Best Parenting Blogs Awards. It has been featured on Babble, ParentDish, Café Mom, Health.com and many other parenting websites. Postpartum Progress was founded by Katherine Stone, who was named a WebMD Health Hero in 2008 and won the Bloganthropy Award in 2010 for her advocacy work for pregnant and new mothers with maternal mental illness.

Postpartum Progress the blog and Daily Hope are both offered by Postpartum Progress Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to vastly improving the amount of services and support available to women with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

Maternal Mental Health: Anxiety Disorders in Pregnancy

In light of the horrific and tragic events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, Giving Birth with Confidence will be dedicating our posts this week to providing resources relating to mental health and wellness. Approximately 1.3 million women annually suffer from mental health disorders that occur during pregnancy and in the postpartum period. Perinatal and postpartum anxiety and mood disorders far outweigh the annual occurrence of several other major diseases combined. The key to finding help and treating mental health disorders is awareness; the more people who know how to spot warning signs and what to do to find help, the greater our possibility for better health.

 

This World is Not Flat: Anxiety Disorders in Pregnancy

Imagine you are sitting in your care provider’s office, and next to the scary “universal pain chart” with the not-so-happy faces getting progressively more distressed and discolored, is this chart:

1 in 8 pregnant women will develop an illness that poses these risks:

  • preterm birth (the leading cause of infant mortality and disability in US)1,2,3
  • low birth weight4
  • low APGAR scores5
  • a more difficult labor and delivery with increase of PTSD symptoms related to birth6,7,8,9
  • increased chance of Postpartum Depression/Anxiety Disorders after birth10,11
  • newborn may have increased agitation12,13
  • jittery infants up to 6 months after delivery14
  • breastfeeding difficulties15
  • child may develop learning and attention disorders later in childhood16,17,18

Genetic Disorder? Pre-ecamplsia? STD?

Nope. Perinatal Anxiety Disorder.

Current estimates are that anywhere from 5% to nearly 25% of pregnant women (1 in 8 ) will have a mood or anxiety disorder.19,20,21 And for pregnant women with anxiety disorders, high levels of cortisol cross the placenta and have long-term effects noted long after birth.22

With my first pregnancy, I began developing symptoms of depression and anxiety shortly after my second trimester. I knew something was wrong, and had both physical and emotional symptoms that were getting progressively worse. At the time (10 years ago), my providers didn’t know to ask about depression and anxiety during pregnancy—and I did a darned good job covering it up. My illness went untreated, and I ended up suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in labor and developing severe postpartum depression and anxiety after the birth. I was three months postpartum before my illness got severe enough, and life threatening, to the point where any of us knew I needed immediate medical treatment.

Anxiety in pregnancy and birth is universal and normal. It is a normal reaction to a physically and emotionally stressful, life-altering event. Secondly, an anxiety disorder in pregnancy is a medical illness, not a character flaw or personality trait. Its etiology is currently traced to an interplay of hormonal, genetic, environmental and immunological systems of the body23,24 – not the half shot of espresso in your latte, your character, or your inability to relax in your [irritating] prenatal yoga class. Newer research is looking at the role of increased oxytocin around the time of birth in influencing the onset of Perinatal Anxiety Disorders (PAD).25 Bottom line: It is not your fault.

 

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety in pregnancy is normal. But when anxiety in pregnancy is significant enough to cause physical, emotional, and cognitive distress — a perinatal anxiety disorder may be occurring and you need help.26

Pec Indman, EdD, MFT and co-author of the award winning book, Beyond the Blues: Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Mood/Anxiety Disorders offered this in a recent interview for this post:

While it’s normal to have some worries during pregnancy (for example, “Will my baby be healthy? or, “ Will I be a good mom”?)–women with anxiety find the worry gets in the way of enjoying the pregnancy and other aspects of life. Women with anxiety may also have appetite changes (often difficulty eating), and find that the worry makes it difficult to fall asleep. Some women experience panic episodes during pregnancy. These are times of extreme anxiety where there may be hot or cold feelings, difficulty breathing or a smothering sensation, numbness or tingling in the fingers or around the mouth, a racing heart, and a feeling of loss of control.

There are several types of anxiety disorders that occur in pregnancy and postpartum, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder, and PTSD. You can learn more about each type at www.postpartum.net under “Get the Facts.” But generally, symptoms27 of an anxiety disorder include:

  • Excessive, ongoing worry that impacts your day to day activities
  • Thoughts of worry regarding the future, or catastrophic events occurring
  • Insomnia
  • Poor appetite
  • Physical restlessness, inability to sit still
  • Dizziness, hot flashes, nausea
  • Panic attacks

 

Risk Factors
Research shows that there are some risk factors that may predispose some of us to anxiety disorders in pregnancy, and can be discussed with your care provider, partner, family or trained professional. Risk factors28,29 include:

  • Family history of anxiety disorders
  • Personal history of depression or anxiety
  • Thyroid imbalance

 

What do you do if you have symptoms or risk factors for an anxiety disorder in pregnancy?

1. Get help. Talk to a care provider. If you can’t talk yourself, find someone you trust to do so with you. The risks are too great. Pec Indman, EdD, MFT, shares:
If a woman is struggling during pregnancy it is essential to get help. Talk to a trained (many providers have not been trained in this area) and understanding professional. There are lots of kinds of effective treatments including counseling (in particular Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Interpersonal Therapy), social support, exercise, Omega-3 fatty acids, acupuncture, and medication.

Regarding women currently on medication, Pec continues:
Women who are on medication for depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety, should consult with a prenatal (or perinatal) mental health expert before stopping medication. We know that over 50% of women who stop their medication before, or when they are find out they are pregnant, become ill again. Many medications can be taken during pregnancy and will help prevent a relapse.30

2. Ask your care providers (OB/GYN, Midwife, Nurse Practitioner, Family Practitioner) if they are trained in depression and anxiety in pregnancy. One tip I give women is to phrase it this way: “If I develop depression or anxiety during pregnancy or after, how will you be able to help me?” or “How do you help women who develop anxiety or depression in pregnancy?” If it is too difficult to do that, ask a trusted friend, partner, or family member to go with you to your next appointment and help you approach your care provider. Write a list of questions and concerns before you go. Calling ahead to let the front office know you need extra time in your appointment is also a good idea.

What if? If your only option is a care provider who is not trained in this area, go to Postpartum Support International (PSI) for excellent resources to take with you to your appointment, or to find local support systems, or call the warm-line for volunteer support on getting help in your area (1-800-944-4773). If making that call or going online is anxiety producing, ask a trusted friend, partner, or family member to go online for you or with you, to PSI and get the information you need.

3. GET A TRAINED DOULA!!! Birth and postpartum doulas can help you get through birth and postpartum adjustment. I strongly suggest you hire a doula who has training in this area (birth doulas are not required to know this information and postpartum doulas often receive little and/or outdated training on anxiety and depression disorders in pregnancy). Some good questions when interviewing doulas are:

  • What training do you have in anxiety and depression disorders in pregnancy?
  • If I get depressed or anxious, how will you know and how will you help?
  • What local resources do you give to clients?
  • How do you feel about anti-depressant medication during pregnancy and breastfeeding? Any doula who is completely “anti-medication” for any medical illness needs to turn in their birth ball and get with the program (it’s a blog, I can say things like that!). They do not have the skills to help you. Go to PSI and ask therapists in your area for referrals to doulas with experience.

 

Nothing Flat About this World of Anxiety Disorders
Pec Indman notes, “Healthcare professionals used to think pregnant women didn’t experience depression or anxiety. We also used to think the world was flat! Thinking has changed about a lot of things.”

Just as thinking and care regarding birth has changed, health care providers are starting to get it regarding mood and anxiety disorders in pregnancy. But much like our births, women have to raise our voices to raise awareness, and in turn get the care we so desperately deserve and need, for our brains and our reproductive systems.

With my second pregnancy, I knew before I peed on the stick — based on my first pregnancy — I had significant risks for depression and anxiety, that it was a physical illness, and that the risks to me and my baby were real and needed to be avoided. I was extremely fortunate to have the financial access to good, trained providers — they are forever in my heart. And I went through a mine field of providers who didn’t know current research and made me feel like a bad mother until I found the ones who “got it.” I firmly believe that when given the right information regarding our bodies, and particularly our pregnant bodies, we do a damn good job to learn more, discuss with those who could help us with treatment, and make the best informed choices for our lives. Once we remind ourselves and our care providers that our brain and uterus inhabit the same body and need the same kind of care, we will be part of the move to see that the world is not flat.
.

A special thanks to Pec Indman, EdD, MFT for her contribution to this article, humor, and support.

Pec Indman EdD, MFT, is a mom with over 20 years experience as a perinatal mental health psychotherapist and educator. She is the chair of education and training for Postpartum Support International, and co-author of the award-winning book, Beyond the Blues. An updated edition will be available the end of Oct. 2010. Beyond the Blues, Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression & Anxiety.

 

References

 

  1. Perkin, M.R., Bland J.M. et al. 1993. The effect of anxiety and depression during pregnancy on obstetrical complications. BrJournal of Obstet Gynaecol 100:629-34.
  2. Wadwa, P.D., Sandman, C.A. et al. 1993. The association between prenatal stress and infant birth weight and gestational age at birth: a prospective investigation. Am J Obstet Gynecol 169:858-64.
  3. Orr, S. T., J. P. Reiter, D. G. Blazer, and S. A. James. 2007. Maternal prenatal pregnancy-related anxiety and spontaneous preterm birth in Baltimore, Maryland. Psychosomatic Medicine 69 (6):566-70.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Beck, C. T., 2004a. Birth trauma: In the eye of the beholder. Nursing Research 53, 28-35.
  7. Beck, C. T., 2004b. Post-traumatic stress disorder due to childbirth: The aftermath. Nursing Research 53, 216-224.
  8. Keogh, E., S. Ayers, and H. Francis. 2002. Does anxiety sensitivity predict post-traumatic stress symptoms following childbirth? A preliminary report. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 31 (4): 145-55.
  9. Kelly, R. H., J. Russo, and W. Katon. 2001. Somatic complaints among pregnant women cared for in obstetrics: Normal pregnancy or depressive and anxiety symptoms amplification revisited? General Hospital Psychiatry 23 (3):107-113.
  10. Lee A.M., Lam S.K. et al. 2007. Prevalence, course and risk factors for antenatal anxiety and depression. Obstet Gynecol 110:1102-1112.
  11. Rambelli, C., Montagnani, M.S. et al. 2010. Panic disorder as a risk factor for post-partum depression: results from the perinatal depression-research and screening unit study. Journal of Affect Disord,122(1-2):139-143.
  12. Coplan, R. J., K. O”Neil, and K. A. Arbeau. 2005. Maternal anxiety during and after pregnancy and infant temperament at three months of age. Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health 19 (3):199-215.
  13. Tagle, N., Neal, C., Glover, V. 2007. Antenatal maternal stress and long term effects on child neurodevelopment: How and why? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 48, 245-261.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Britton, J.R. 2007. Postpartum anxiety and breastfeeding. Journal of Reproductive Medicine, 52:689-695.
  16. Weinberg, M. Tronic, E.Z. 1998. The impact of maternal illness on infant development. J Clinc. Psychiatry 59(suppl 2):53-61
  17. O’Connor, T. G., J. Heron, and V. Glover. 2002. Antenatal anxiety predicts child behavioral/emotional problems independently of postnatal depression. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 41 (12): 1470-77.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Onunaku, N. 2005. Improving maternal and infant mental health: Focus on maternal depression. National Center for Infant and Early Childhood Health Policy at UCLA.
  20. Knitzer, J., Theberge, S., Johnson, K. 2008. Reducing maternal depression and its impact on young children: Toward a responsive early childhood policy framework. National Center for Children in Poverty, Project Five Issue Brief 2.
  21. Gaynes B., Gavin, N., Melter-Brody, S., Lhor, K., Swinson, T., Gartlehner, G., et al. 2005. Perinatal depression prevalence, screening accuracy, and screening outcomes: Summary, evidence report and technology assessment, No 119. AHRQ Publication No. 05-E006-1.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Altemus, M. 2001. Obsessive-compulsive disorder during pregnancy and postpartum. In: Yonkers, K., Little., B. (eds) Management of psychiatric disorder in pregnancy. Oxford University Press, NY, pp 149-163.
  24. Stein, D.J., Hollander, E., Simeon, D., et al. 1993. Pregnancy and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Am J Psychiatry 150:1131-1132.
  25. Bartz, J.A., Hollander, E. 2008. Oxytocin and experimental therapeutics in autism spectrum disorders. Progressive Brain Research, 170:451-462.
  26. American Psychiatric Association. 2000. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed, text revision). Author, Washington, DC.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Lee A.M., Lam S.K. et al. 2007. Prevalence, course and risk factors for antenatal anxiety and depression. Obstet Gynecol 110:1102-1112.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Cohen, L.S., Altshuler, L.L. 2006. Relapse of major depression during pregnancy in women who maintain or discontinue antidepressant treatment. JAMA, 295:499-507

Reading Beyond the Headlines: A Closer Look at the Study on Antidepressants During Pregnancy

A recent study regarding the use of antidepressants has been gaining a lot of media attention. The actual study, The risks of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor use in infertile women: a review of the impact on fertility, pregnancy, neonatal health and beyond (Domar, Moragianni, Ryley & Urato, 2012) has been described by media with a fair amount of fear-based headlines. Safety regarding the use of a specific type of antidepressant medication, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRIs), is an important topic of research,  as care providers from many fields address the prevalence and negative effects of depression and other mood disorders in pregnancy.

 

Understandably, pregnant women and their families may be greatly alarmed by these dramatic press releases, and in some cases may consider suddenly discontinuing their medication, without realizing the significant risks that accompany suddenly stopping medication. What do the experts say?

 

I asked the study’s lead researcher, Alice Domar, MD what advice she would offer a pregnant woman who is currently on one of the SSRI medications listed in the study to do, and she kindly offered this response:

 

I would never recommend the sudden discontinuation of an SSRI during pregnancy. There are significant side effects associated with the abrupt cessation of antidepressants and we don’t know the impact on the developing fetus. The three main points we were trying to make with the paper were: 1) there are risks associated with taking SSRIs during pregnancy, 2) there are no clear benefits, and 3) each patient needs to have a discussion with her physician about her individual risk/benefit ratio.  There is a huge difference between a woman who is suicidal, who in all likelihood should remain on medication, versus women with mild or moderate symptoms who would benefit from a different approach, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, or physical exercise, both of which are very effective in the treatment of depressive symptoms.” –Alice Domar, MD (personal email communication, 11/2/12)

 

Another of the study’s researchers, Dr. Adam Urato, offered this follow-up:

“Your question is a good one (What would you advise a pregnant woman who is currently on one of the SSRI medications listed in the study to do?) and it is one I deal with several times each week as an Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist.  I agree with Dr. Domar’s comments.  Sudden discontinuation of the SSRIs is not recommended.  They should be tapered for those who plan to discontinue them. The patient and their pregnancy health care provider (and their mental health provider) need to be aware of the scientific evidence regarding these drugs.  That evidence shows significant risk of pregnancy complications (like miscarriage and preterm birth) and no evidence of benefit for moms and babies.  In non-pregnant populations, alternatives like cognitive behavioral therapy and exercise appear to be as effective as the SSRI antidepressants and without the side effects and pregnancy risks.” (Personal email communication, 11/2/12)

 

Reaching out to experts in the field provided roundtable perspective. Christina Chambers, MPH, PhD, California Teratogen Information Specialist (CTIS) and director of the Pregnancy Health Information Line, had these thoughts:

“I agree with the authors’ comments. Caution is warranted, treatment makes sense when benefits are clear, and women with less severe illness might consider alternative approaches if they work, abrupt discontinuation without doctor’s advice is not a good idea, and care needs to be taken to address the issue of complications for mother and baby of untreated or poorly treated maternal depression. If a woman has questions, she should consult her doctor. She can also call the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS) at 866-626-6847 to speak to an expert in this field.” (Personal email communication, 11/2/12)

 

Lucy Puryear, MD, immediate past president of Postpartum Support International (PSI) and Medical Director of The Women’s Place: Center for Reproductive Psychiatry offered:

“For women with mild to moderate depression psychotherapy and alternative treatments are absolutely the first choice. But for women with moderate to severe depression that is impairing functioning, antidepressants must be an option. Antidepressants do work in this population and save lives. Our challenge is to continue to look for the safest and most effective treatments for women during this vulnerable period.” (Personal email communication, 11/2/12)

 

PSI’s Executive Director Wendy N. Davis, PhD, agreed,

“We are most concerned that women will be unduly frightened by articles that discuss risks of antidepressants but do not discuss positive experiences or research studies that show little statistical relationship between SSRI use and pregnancy outcome. We want to connect women with reliable resources and experts in perinatal psychiatry so they can make thoughtful decisions about treatment options for depression and anxiety during pregnancy.”

 

A word about the science….

One of the pre-eminent researchers in the field, Adrienne Einarson of The Motherisk Program, shared some important criticisms of this study:

Here are my main problems with this publication:

1) It is said to be a review on treatment for infertility patients, however, one-third of the paper is about the lack of efficacy of antidepressants in general.
2) To say there is no evidence for effectiveness in pregnancy is true, but that is simply because there are no RCTs (randomized control studies), not because this has been proven.
3) All of the studies that were picked were ones that found negative effects, with no mention of how marginal the statistical significance really was.
4) The paragraph that is the most concerning is the one starting with “There is compelling evidence that SSRI use prior to and during pregnancy can pose significant risks to the pregnancy and to the short- and long-term health of the baby…” Of course there is compelling evidence when you choose your studies to fit your hypothesis.

This was a biased review, not a systematic one as reviews should be. In fact, there was not a single study referenced in this paper that did not find any harmful effects when there are many that have been published. (Personal email communication, 11/4/12)

 

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I had a sinus infection. I went to a general practitioner for treatment and shared that I was on an SSRI. You would have thought I told her I was shooting heroine every hour on the hour while tossing back jello shots and chain smoking! If I hadn’t had the science from my research treatment team at the UCLA Women’s Life Center, I could have easily been scared into stopping my medication. Instead I pulled out a collection of evidence-based research I carried in my purse and left it with her.

 

Unfortunately, for a woman who is pregnant and has depression, trying to decipher headlines and the seemingly constant stream of warnings might be overwhelming. Not to mention the stigma that accompanies depression and motherhood. Most don’t realize that to be that mom means you have to be constantly armed with proof that you are not harming your child. This is where having Adrienne Einarson’s insights can help you navigate the science, and advocate for your health and well-being.

 

Take Home Message:

If you are currently pregnant and taking an SSRI, do not abruptly stop taking your medication until you talk health care provider about risks and benefits for your individual care. If you feel you may be experiencing depression or anxiety and are pregnant, you deserve help with your symptoms. Not getting help has been proven to have negative effects on a developing fetus and increases the risk of pre-term birth, lower birth weight, and postpartum depression. Discuss your symptoms with your care provider immediately. I highly recommend using the resources available at OTIS (866) 626-6847 to address your concerns and questions.

 

____________________

Walker would like to thank Alice Domar MD; Adam Urato, MD; Christina Chamber, PhD, MPH; Lucy Puryear, MD; Wendy Davis, PhD; and Adrienne Einarson for their contributions.

 

Reference

Domar, A. D., Moragianni, V. A., Ryley, D.A., & Urato, A.C. (2012). The risks of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor use in infertile women: a review of the impact on fertility, pregnancy, neonatal health and beyond. Human Reproduction, Vol.0(0) pp. 1–12 doi:10.1093/humrep/des383

 

Other Resources:

Department of Health and Human Services: Depression During and After Pregnancy: A Resource for Women, Their Families, & Friends