The effects of lithium, valproic acid, and carbamazepine during pregnancy and lactation

J Toxicol Clin Toxicol. 2001;39(4):381-92. doi: 10.1081/clt-100105159.


The chronic, complex, and episodic course of bipolar mood disorder presents a particularly formidable challenge to the clinician making a treatment plan for the onset or recurrence of the illness during pregnancy and lactation. Women treated with anti-manic drugs who become pregnant are commonly considered to be at high risk for fetal complications during the pregnancy or during lactation. The risks of antimanic drug use during pregnancy include teratogenic effects, direct neonatal toxicity, and the potential for longer-term neurobehavioral sequela. The use of medications during pregnancy and lactation requires critical attention to the timing of exposure, dosage, duration of use, and fetal susceptibility. The postnatal period is a time of increased onset and relapse of mental illness. No antimanic drug can be proven completely safe. Prescribing antimanic medications with a long safety record, avoiding exposure in the first trimester; avoiding multidrug regimens, and prescribing the lowest dose for the shortest duration will minimize the fetal risk. This review considers treatment with lithium, valproic acid, and carbamazepine. It assesses the risk to the fetus, the perinatal risks for the infant, the risks associated with treatment during the puerperium and breast-feeding, and the risks to the later development of the child.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anticonvulsants / adverse effects*
  • Antimanic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Carbamazepine / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lactation / physiology*
  • Lithium / adverse effects*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / psychology
  • Valproic Acid / adverse effects*


  • Anticonvulsants
  • Antimanic Agents
  • Carbamazepine
  • Valproic Acid
  • Lithium