Psychotropic Treatment During Pregnancy: Research Synthesis and Clinical Care Principles

J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2020 Mar;29(3):310-318. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2019.7781. Epub 2019 Dec 3.


Background: Psychiatric illnesses are common in women of childbearing age. The perinatal period is a particularly high-risk time for depression, bipolar, and anxiety disorders. Methods: The scope of the public health problem of perinatal mental disorders is discussed followed by an examination of the specific research methods utilized for the study of birth and developmental outcomes associated with maternal mental illness and its treatment. The evidence on exposure to common psychotropics during pregnancy and breastfeeding is reviewed. Results: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor medications are not associated with higher rates of birth defects or long-term changes in mental development after adjustment for confounding factors associated with underlying psychiatric illness. Lithium exposure is associated with an increased risk for fetal cardiac malformations, but this risk is lower than previously thought (absolute risk of Ebstein's anomaly 6/1,000). Antipsychotics, other than risperidone and potentially paliperidone, have not been associated with an increase in birth defects; olanzapine and quetiapine have been linked with an elevated risk of gestational diabetes. Due to the dramatic physiological changes of pregnancy and enhanced hepatic metabolism, drug doses may need to be adjusted during pregnancy to sustain efficacy. Untreated maternal psychiatric illness also carries substantial risks for the mother, fetus, infant, and family. Conclusions: The goal of perinatal mental health treatment is to optimally provide pharmacotherapy to mitigate the somatic and psychosocial burdens of maternal psychiatric disorders. Regular symptom monitoring during pregnancy and postpartum and medication dose adjustments to sustain efficacy constitutes good practice.

Keywords: SSRI; antidepressants; breastfeeding; perinatal depression; pregnancy; psychotropic medications.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antipsychotic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Breast Feeding
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Postpartum Period
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / drug therapy*
  • Pregnancy Complications / psychology*
  • Psychotropic Drugs / adverse effects
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Psychotropic Drugs
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors