Bipolar disorder and pregnancy: to treat, or not to treat?

Container of medications knocked overWhen it comes to medication and pregnancy, women suffering from bipolar disorder often receive conflicting advice. Most simply don’t know what’s best for their health and for that of their child. For some women, like Natasha Tracy, it’s easier to rule out pregnancy altogether. And this isn’t surprising: as recently as a decade ago, the general advice was that women with bipolar disorder should not become pregnant.

Concerns over lithium – a drug commonly taken by bipolar sufferers – have changed over the years. While current research suggests that it can lead to an increased risk of certain conditions, experts have revised that risk down. Many now advise pregnant women to continue taking the drug under careful medical supervision. This marks a shift in medical thinking, but it’s not easy to shake off previous assumptions about what’s safe and what isn’t.

Questions over drug use don’t stop once the baby is born. Bipolar women are more likely to suffer from postnatal depression – 100 times more likely according to some estimates. The inevitable sleep deprivation that comes with a new baby can also exacerbate a bipolar woman’s condition: again, views such as Natasha Tracy’s are understandable.

But it isn’t a question of simply stopping medication, continuing treatment, or adjusting dosages. Any abrupt changes in drug use can be dangerous. Research shows that women suffering from bipolar disorder shouldn’t simply stop their medication if they become, or want to become, pregnant since this brings risks of its own.

When it comes to combining bipolar conditions and pregnancy, there is some good news out there – if mothers-to-be and doctors can find it. As recent research shows that with careful management of the condition, bipolar women can become mothers to healthy babies. It’s just about asking the right questions, at the right time.

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