A confusing state: treating mental illness during pregnancy

Woman holding her newborn baby at hospitalMany women suffering from a mental disorder, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, control their condition using antipsychotic drugs. But if a woman taking this type of medication wants to have a baby, there aren’t many standard answers from the medical community as to what’s the best thing to do.

Whether or not a woman continues to take her medication during pregnancy will depend on many factors. But more often than not, simply stopping the course of treatment isn’t an option, as this could pose a great risk to the patient. However, many doctors often don’t know enough about how antipsychotic drugs might affect women and their children during pregnancy.

Earlier this year, researchers in Australia tried to find some answers to these questions. While the investigators acknowledged that the safety of antipsychotic drugs during pregnancy is unknown, they focused on the health of babies born to mothers taking this treatment, rather than the mothers themselves. The results showed that babies might be at greater risk of suffering from neonatal problems, such as respiratory distress, but no associations emerged between intake of these drugs and babies having birth defects.

It’s interesting that researchers chose to focus on the fetus, rather than the mother. But perhaps what’s even more interesting is that if current antipsychotic drugs can affect a woman’s ability to have a healthy child, wouldn’t it be beneficial to have more research into safer drugs for mental disorders? Maybe it’s time to start developing drugs with the assumption that women might take them at every single stage of their life.

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