Pooled analysis of antidepressant levels in lactating mothers, breast milk, and nursing infants

Am J Psychiatry. 2004 Jun;161(6):1066-78. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.161.6.1066.


Objective: The available data on antidepressant levels in nursing infants were analyzed in order to calculate average infant drug levels and determine what factors influence plasma drug levels in breast-feeding infants of mothers treated with antidepressants.

Method: Electronic searches of MEDLINE, PreMEDLINE, Current Contents, Biological Abstracts, and PsycINFO from 1966 through July 2002 followed by bibliographic searches identified 67 relevant studies (two unpublished). By consensus the authors identified 57 studies of maternal plasma, breast milk, and/or infant plasma antidepressant levels from nursing mother-infant pairs, measured by liquid chromatography.

Results: Infants with recent prenatal exposure and symptomatic infants included in case reports were analyzed separately. Infant plasma levels were standardized against the average maternal level for each drug. The average infant-maternal plasma ratio was calculated for each drug, and correlations of infant plasma level to maternal dose, maternal plasma level, and breast milk level were calculated. Nortriptyline, paroxetine, and sertraline usually produce undetectable infant levels. Of drugs currently used, fluoxetine produces the highest proportion (22%) of infant levels that are elevated above 10% of the average maternal level. Based on smaller numbers, the data on citalopram indicate that it produces elevated levels in 17% of infants. The milk-to-plasma ratios for 11 antidepressants had a statistically significant negative association with the percentage of the drug bound to protein.

Conclusions: Nortriptyline, paroxetine, and sertraline may be preferred choices in breast-feeding women. Minimizing the maternal dose may be helpful with citalopram. Current data do not support monitoring breast milk levels in individual patients. Future researchers should report maternal, breast milk, and infant antidepressant levels along with other appropriate variables.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents / analysis*
  • Antidepressive Agents / metabolism
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Depression, Postpartum / blood
  • Depression, Postpartum / drug therapy
  • Depression, Postpartum / metabolism
  • Depressive Disorder / blood
  • Depressive Disorder / drug therapy
  • Depressive Disorder / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn / blood*
  • Lactation / blood*
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*


  • Antidepressive Agents