Mental Illness While Pregnant Won't Harm Your Baby, New Study Finds

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To put it mildly, there is a lot of stigma associated with mental illness in the United States. So many people are unwilling or unable to understand that having anxiety or depression is not a character flaw; instead, such conditions require health care just like cancer or bronchitis. So, pregnant women and news moms with mental illnesses certainly don't need anyone casting them in a certain way. And, a brand new study just delivered them some good news and may change this perception. According to the research, having a mental illness while pregnant won't harm your baby. Yes, there are some minor caveats to consider when it comes to taking medications to treat such conditions with a baby on the way, but experts agree that there's not much to worry about on either front, giving many moms the peace of mind they need during those nine months.

A study out of Yale University, published Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry, has done its (encouraging) part to confirm as much. In short, the researchers found through following more than 2,600 women that their depression, panic disorder, or generalized anxiety disorder itself did not at all negatively affect their babies-to-be when compared to the children of women who did not deal with these conditions while pregnant, the Yale News reported. In terms of both maternal and neonatal outcomes, the differences were zero. That's great news for moms or moms-to-be who may be feeling a bit, well, anxious about this whole pregnancy thing.

On the other hand, the researchers did uncover some modest associations between the medications used to treat the mental illnesses included in the study and health outcomes for the babies exposed to them in utero. For example, it turned out that the babies of the moms who took benzodiazepines — such as Xanax, Valium, and Ativan — used to address depression required the additional support of a ventilator in 61 out of 1,000 cases. Also, a mom's use of antidepressants like Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft shaved an average of 1.8 days off pregnancies, and 53 out of 1,000 pregnancies linked them to conditions related to high blood pressure.

Notably, the researchers did not find that the relationship between the outcomes for the babies were caused by their mothers' use of these drugs. They simply identified the association that existed. So, lead author of the study Kimberly Yonkers told the Yale News that discontinuing the oftentimes necessary treatments is by no means a must:

Many women require treatment with these medications during pregnancy, and these findings do not suggest they should discontinue treatment. Instead, women should work together with their doctors to find the lowest possible dosages and adhere to good health habits like healthy diet and exercise and avoidance of cigarettes and alcohol.
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The Yale study isn't the only one to identify a correlation between such pharmaceuticals and potential detrimental effects in babies and kids.

Reuters reported Wednesday that researchers in Denmark found a link between exposure to antidepressants in utero and the diagnosis of mood, anxiety, behavioral, or autism spectrum disorders by the age of 16. However, the overall risk is low. Cheryl Platzman Weinstock, also pointed out, according to Reuters, that because children of moms with untreated depression appear also be susceptible to such outcomes, it's possible that the medications aren't to blame at all.

In any case, it's imperative that pregnant women discuss their conditions, medications, and any concerns with their doctors, and that they follow individualized medical advice given. Above all, they should remember that having a mental illness is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of and that they should always feel confident in accessing the treatments they need.

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