Objective: Pharmacological treatment of postpartum depression is frequently complicated by the mother's desire to breast-feed. Although breast milk levels of several selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been reported to be relatively low, a critical question is whether SSRI exposure during nursing results in clinically significant blockade of serotonin (5-HT) reuptake in infants. This study determined the degree of transporter blockade in infants exposed to sertraline through maternal breast milk.
Method: The extent of maternal and infant transporter blockade was assessed by measurement of platelet levels of 5-HT in 14 breast-feeding mother-infant pairs before and after 6-16 weeks of maternal treatment with sertraline for major depression with postpartum onset. Plasma sertraline and desmethylsertraline levels were obtained in 13 of these mothers and 11 of their infants.
Results: Marked declines in platelet 5-HT levels of 70%-96% were observed in mothers after sertraline treatment, 25-200 mg/day. In contrast, infants showed little or no change in platelet 5-HT levels after exposure through breast-feeding. Mean levels of maternal plasma sertraline and its major metabolite, desmethylsertraline, were 30.7 ng/ml and 45.3 ng/ml, respectively. Drug and drug metabolite concentrations in the infants were at or below the lower limit of quantitation.
Conclusions: The data indicate that while mothers receiving clinical doses of sertraline experience substantial blockade of the platelet 5-HT transporter, platelet 5-HT uptake in nursing infants of treated mothers is unaltered. The observations suggest that mothers taking sertraline can breast-feed without appreciably affecting peripheral or central 5-HT transport in their infants.