Anxiety and Medications During Pregnancy

Health Writer

You have anxiety and you just found out you are pregnant, or maybe you are thinking of becoming pregnant. What do you do? Do you continue taking anxiety medications? What are the risks of possible birth defects? Is there a risk to you or your baby if you stop taking medication? What do you need to know?

Pregnancy is a time of great excitement but can also be a time of enormous anxiousness. Some types of anxiety disorders, such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) may become worse during pregnancy, while others, such as panic disorder, may actually decrease.

Feelings of anxiety and nervousness can be triggered by new worries. Will you be a good parent? Will your child be okay? Are you prepared financially for a new child? All of the questions and worry surrounding pregnancy can trigger anxiety symptoms.

It is important to talk with your doctor who treats you anxiety as well as your obstetrician about your anxiety disorder, your medication and the health of your baby. Together you can weigh the benefits of continuing medication against the risks and decide what is best for you and your family.

How Anxiety Affects Your Unborn Baby

Most of the time, the risks of taking medication are discussed in detail, but little is said about the possibility that your anxiety will have a negative effect on your child. One study showed that when a mother experiences high anxiety during pregnancy, the child is at risk of developing problems with cognitive performance, social and emotional processing and auditory language processing.

Additional studies have shown that anxiety and stress during pregnancy can cause:

  • Delayed development
  • Emotional and behavioral problems

Certainly, these should be taken into consideration when talking with your doctor about managing your anxiety during your pregnancy.

How Anxiety Medication Affects Your Unborn Baby

On the other side is the possibility of birth defects caused by certain medications used to treat anxiety. In an article, "Pregnancy and Medication for Women With Anxiety and Depression," Jerilyn Ross states, "Taking SSRIs may pose an increased risk of birth defects, and during the third trimester they may also cause a neonatal syndrome of irritability, poor feeding, sleep disturbance, and other symptoms lasting from a few days to about a week."

Some experts also believe that newborns of mothers who have been on antidepressants throughout their pregnancy can experience withdrawal at birth and suggest tapering off the medication before birth to reduce the chance of this happening. Other experts worry about the increased chance of anxiety and depression in the mother after the birth, especially if there is a risk of developing post-partum depression.

Different medications for anxiety come with different risks. Some antidepressants, such as SSRIs, may present more risks to an unborn child than others.

Talking to Your Doctors

You may have more than one doctor who needs to be involved in your treatment during your pregnancy; one who prescribes your anxiety medication, one overseeing your pregnancy and you may have a therapist for either cognitive behavioral therapy or talk therapy. Together, you and your medical team must make the decision of what is best for you and your baby.

You will need to look at the risks of taking medication and the risks of not taking medication. You will need to be prepared for increased symptoms of anxiety and possibly depression. You should discuss the warning signs that something is wrong and know when to contact your doctor and which doctor to contact based on specific concerns.

For more information:

Talking to Your Doctor: 10 Questions to Ask

How Do I Talk To My Doctor About Anxiety?


"Antidepressants: Safe During Pregnancy?" 2009, Dec 17, Staff Writer, Mayo Clinic

"Anxiety During Pregnancy: How Does it Affect the Developing Fetal Brain?" 2011, April 11, Snezana Milanovic, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital