Objective: The aim of this study was to determine the extent and patterns of antidepressant use before, during and after pregnancy in a large population in The Netherlands.
Methods: Health care records and prescription data from one of the largest Dutch health insurance companies were analysed. The study cohort consisted of 29,005 women who had live births in the period between January 2000 and July 2003. Antidepressant drug use during a specified period was defined as there being a record of a prescription during that period.
Results: During the first trimester of pregnancy 2% of all pregnant women of the study cohort were found to have taken antidepressants; in the second and third trimesters, this figure had dropped to 1.8% of all pregnancies. Antidepressant use before as well as during pregnancy was almost twofold higher in women over 35 years of age than in those under 35 years. Almost 60% of the women who used antidepressants before pregnancy stopped taking them in the first trimester, and a smaller number stopped thereafter. Of all women using antidepressants during pregnancy, one third started this medication during gestation. In the 3 months following delivery, the prevalence of antidepressant use was the same as before pregnancy (2.9%). There was no shift to benzodiazepines in the group of women who stopped taking antidepressants during pregnancy. Although paroxetine and fluoxetine were the most frequently used antidepressants among the study group, all modern antidepressants were used.
Conclusion: A considerable number of women are being exposed to antidepressants throughout pregnancy up until delivery. One consequence of this is that their newborns need special care and supervision during the first days of life. However, women who stop taking the medication may risk a relapse of their illness, and this may also have a negative effect on the child.