Skip to main content

Depression linked to pregnancy complications

Image courtesy of

A popular type of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) has been linked to pregnancy complications such as miscarriage, low birth weight and preterm birth.  A mother’s use of SSRIs during pregnancy has also been found to produce potentially life-threatening health conditions to the newborn.

A new study published in the journal Human Reproduction has highlighted new warnings for women’s use of SSRIs during childbearing years.  Depression, infertility and birth defects are far too common and the occurrence continues to grow with no definitive prevention or treatment guidelines. 

Are SSRIs the solution?

Depression is now estimated to affect 350 million people and fewer than 10 percent receive proper care despite known, effective prevention and treatment techniques.  The diagnosis is more common in females, which can further complicate effective and proactive depression care in certain regions.

Proper care is often limited by the lack of financial resources and poor access to care but is also tied to deficient public health education, awareness and prevention programs. The devastating effects of depression will continue to grow and impact the health of mothers, children and families without immediate action.

Antidepressant use has grown by 400 percent in the last 20 years but very few prevention techniques and strategies have been implemented.  Treatment with medication is rarely the solution without getting to the underlying reason and contributing lifestyle factors.  Education and awareness of natural remedies must be readily available to curb this growing epidemic. 

Many scientists are now questioning the safety and effectiveness of SSRIs in pregnant females.   Several studies have even shown that a placebo or sugar pill to be more effective than an SSRI in the treatment of depression and preventing complications. 

Altered hormones cause imbalances

Pregnancy and depression both rely on the balance of critical hormones in the body.  Hormones are produced by glands and controlled by neurology of the body.  One system can impact the health and wellbeing of another through hormonal and neurological imbalances. 

Researchers have found antidepressants to affect pregnancy outcomes through this mechanism.  Overuse or inappropriate use of SSRIs can hurt the chance of a woman becoming pregnant and increase the risk of premature delivery and miscarriage. 

Childbirth complications are at an all-time high and antidepressants could be making them worse.  Severe deformity, congenital anomalies and heart dysfunction in the child has also been linked to the use of antidepressant in mothers. Mothers taking antidepressants have also been found to have elevated blood pressure and have an increased risk of developing a severe condition called preeclampsia. 

A 2006 clinical trial found that antidepressants impacted a child’s birth weight and elevated the risk of developing severe respiratory conditions.  Children were also more prone to the development of feeding problems, nervousness and constant crying. 

SSRI medication versus exercise

Exercise has been found to be more beneficial than a placebo and SSRI medication in several clinical studies.  You may ask why does exercise play such a dominant role in our mental health? Depression has been associated with decreased neurogenesis (the generation of new neurons in the brain). Antidepressant medications attempt to promote neurogenesis however; numerous studies show that exercise is just as, if not more effective in accomplishing this outcome.

Further evidence shows that higher intensity exercise boasts the highest antidepressant effects. The long-term effects of exercise have been found to be one of the best benefits. Many studies show that even when exercise is stopped for a period of time, its positive effects can linger for months afterward.

How does exercise improve brain function and alleviate depression? Exercise is the most effective way of improving blood flow and oxygen to the brain.  It has also been found to have a positive impact on endorphins that have been commonly associated with a feeling of euphoria related to exercise and help encourage new neuron generation.

Exercise and antidepressants both seek to improve the balance of a hormone called serotonin.  Serotonin is known for its ability to influence hormone balance, mood, sleep, appetite and an overall good feeling. 

The key difference between SSRIs and exercise is that exercise has no side effects.  The complicating factor is that many people that suffer from depression find it difficult to do anything including exercise.  Start small and go for a short walk or anything that will get your blood pumping and endorphins flowing.   

Depression associated with vitamin D deficiency

Increasing one’s vitamin D can significantly improve depression according to recent research.  Researchers found that vitamin D deficiency to be linked to hormonal imbalance, inflammation and altered oxygen delivery to the brain. 

Vitamin D is often called "the sunshine vitamin" because our bodies make it when we are exposed to sunlight but it is also available in one’s diet.

Vitamin D rich foods include fish such as tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines.  It can also be found in eggs and dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt. 

Omega-3 fatty acids linked to depression

Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects.  Inflammation may underlie the origin of many diseases, including depression.  Adding omega-3 fatty acids to your diet will not necessarily improve your symptoms, but a diet deficient in omega-3 fatty acids is likely to worsen them.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in many of the same fish as vitamin d.  Salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, tuna, and herring all have high amounts of omega-3.   Walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds and many other seeds and nuts are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. 

Depression during pregnancy is common as the baby uses up stores of these fatty acids for it’s own growth and development.  The child can suffer the previously stated health conditions without the proper amount of omega-3 from the mother. 

Consume vitamin B rich foods

Our bodies do not store B vitamins thus creating the need to consume them on a daily basis.  Vitamin B6 helps your body metabolize proteins, fats and carbohydrates. It also helps form new red blood cells, antibodies, neurotransmitters and is vital to your baby's developing brain and nervous system.

Excellent food sources of vitamin B6 include beans, nuts, lean meats and fish.

Research has demonstrated that women who don't get enough vitamin B12 will have a higher risk of potentially disabling or fatal birth defects.  Vitamin B12 is critical in the early stages of pregnancy and a deficiency will increase birth defects five fold. 

Vitamin B12 is essential for the functioning of the nervous system and for the production of red blood cells. It can be naturally found in animal products, including fish, meat, poultry, eggs and milk products.

We must learn to protect our mothers and children if we want to protect our future.  Depression can be prevented, treated and reversed through natural interventions.  Commit to an exercise and nutrition regimen that has been proven to reduce the devastating effects of depression and get your life back on track.  

Facebook: Dr Cory Couillard
Twitter: DrCoryCouillard

Three featured columns:
St. Kitts and Nevis
St. Vincent and the Grenadines


  1. As much as possible, usage of SSRI during pregnancy must be avoided. It has been noted to negatively affect the baby inside the womb. We don't want to risk a baby's life, do we? Taking antidepressants may also mean depriving the baby of the chance of living a normal life with all the possible birth defects linked with the medication.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Can we now cure HIV in newborns?

Doctors are reporting that a child born with HIV that was put on an unusually aggressive treatment regimen has been functionally cured of the infection. Using the most sensitive HIV testing available, they were able to find only trace amounts of HIV "particles" but no virus capable of replicating, the research team reported.

"If there is a trial that shows this can happen again, then this will be very important," said Dr. Karin Nielsen, a pediatrician who specializes in infectious diseases at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine. "You'll be able to treat people very intensively and reverse the disease."

The news provides no answers for adults living with HIV but it can be a landmark victory in the health of future generations. Every year, 300,000 to 400,000 babies are born infected with HIV according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases.

The treatment consisted of giving the newborn a three-drug…

Non-communicable diseases ravaging the poorest

The convergence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and infectious diseases (IDs) in low- and middle-income countries presents major challenges to the world’s poorest and most neglected groups of people. NCDs continue to escalate and cause hundreds of billions of dollars of loss annually despite aggressive lifestyle campaigns.

A NCD is a medical condition or disease that is non-infectious and non-transmissible amongst people. NCDs may be chronic diseases of long duration and slow progression, or they may result in more rapid death such as some types stroke and heart attacks. Unknowingly to most, NCDs also include autoimmune diseases, many cancers, asthma, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and many more.

Most Low- to middle income countries has dual disease burdens of NCDs and IDs including tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and parasitic diseases. Unfortunately, experts, institutions and policies that support prevention and control of these two overarching disease categories have very limited int…

Strong health systems critical in addressing health threats in the African Region

Brazzaville, 8 April 2015 – The World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti has called on the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Republic of Congo to advocate with their national governments to strengthen health systems to be able to address the health challenges facing the African Region. She briefed the diplomats about the on-going Ebola epidemic in West Africa, current and emerging health threats in the WHO African Region, progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and the strategic priorities for WHO’s work in the Region for 2015-2020. The Regional Director underscored the importance of strong national health systems to be able to withstand epidemics and emergencies while delivering essential health services to people who need them most. Dr Moeti pointed out that the Ebola epidemic has had devastating impacts on families, livelihoods, security, health workforce, service delivery and overall socioeconomic development of the seve…