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October 24th, 2011
01:38 PM ET

Is it OK to take antidepressants while breast-feeding?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Mondays, it's pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu.

Asked by Eliza from Indiana

I recently had my first baby and just learned I have OCD. My doctor put me on a very low dose of antidepressant and my symptoms are much better. I am breast-feeding my son and don't want to use formula but am worried about side effects. What problems should I look for?

Expert answer

Thanks for your question, and congratulations on your baby! OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, has been found in some studies to be more common in post-partum women. When unwanted thoughts and compulsive behaviors become intrusive or harmful to the new mom and/or her baby, an antidepressant or other medication may be helpful.

Anything that a mother ingests can be transferred in varying amounts through breast milk to the baby. Antidepressants can be found in low or undetectable amounts in nursing infants. Depending on the exact medicine, the baby may not show any side effects, although some antidepressants have been reported to cause crying, fussiness, sleep problems, poor growth, and even seizures.

Ask our expert doctors a question

Reactions to medications in breast-feeding babies tend to be more common under 6 months of age and are usually temporary. It is not well known, however, what long-term effects these medications might have on a child's development. To minimize short-term problems, it may be helpful to time the dosing of medication to occur right after the baby has breast-fed or before a long stretch of sleep. Also, both mom and baby should be monitored closely by their respective physicians.

The benefits of breast-feeding a baby often outweigh the risks of exposure to an antidepressant, and parents with treated medical (including mental health) problems are generally better able to care for their babies. I therefore encourage mothers to talk with their physicians about best medication choices and nonmedical treatments that are safe to use while breast-feeding.

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