Drugs in Breastmilk
Part of the stigma surrounding mental health illnesses revolves around the medication that is prescribed to treat such conditions. To many people anti-depressants carry negative connotations. It’s often assumed that anybody taking ant-depressants will be a zombie like figure incapable of functioning in the real world.
These sort of stereotypes are not only wildly inaccurate but also make those needing help reluctant to seek it. The stigma associated with anti-depressant drugs can have a huge impact on the confidence of women with mental health issues to breastfeed, due to the concern about drugs in breastmilk.
Anti-Depressant Advice in Breastfeeding
Research shows that the use of anti-depressant medication during breastfeeding typically shortens the length of time that a mother breastfeeds for. This is not because of the affects of the medication. It is mainly down to the overly cautious information given to mothers by healthcare providers.
The lack of understanding about anti-depressant drugs leads to advice being given that is not necessarily accurate. This will naturally cause concern to a new mother who will not want to do anything to risk the health of their newborn. If they are advised by a healthcare professional not to breastfeed, there is a good chance that they will heed this advice.
Results of Breastmilk Research
There has been no comprehensive review published of the literature on infant adverse reactions from drugs in breastmilk. An analysis of all published studies and case reports relating to drugs in breastmilk provided interesting reading.
It was found that of the 100 case reports analysed 0% were found to be ‘definite’, 47% were ‘probable’ and 53% were ‘possible’. The full article can be found here
The research doesn’t provide any definitive answers. This obviously means that some caution is advisable and understandable. However what it also shows is that it is wrong of health care providers to use rhetoric to dissuade new mothers on anti-depressants from breastfeeding.
As discussed in a previous article the decision to breastfeed is a very personal and important one for a new mother. It’s no less important for new mothers suffering from mental health issues. In fact the empowerment and sense of achievement provided from breastfeeding can have a huge positive affect on mental health.
It’s important that correct advice is given to new mothers taking anti-depressants. Advice that gives them the encouragement allowing them to breastfeed if they so wish.
It is also important to remember that if given bad advice about the dangers of drugs in breastmilk some new mothers may choose to withdraw from their medication in order to breastfeed. This could have dangerous consequences on the mental health of the mother. This in turn will affect the level of care she able to provide to her newborn baby.
There is a take home message here. The stigmas attached to mental health illnesses and anti-depressants can have wide ranging consequences. It’s for this reason that we need to continue raising awareness and talking openly about such issues.
For help and information on breastfeeding please visit the Breastfeeding Network.