Ms. D, age 32, recently gave birth to her second child. Her psychiatric history includes major depressive disorder. She had been stable on mirtazapine 30 mg at bedtime for 3 years. Based on clinical stability and patient preference, Ms. D elected to taper off mirtazapine 1 month prior to delivery. Now at 1 month postdelivery, Ms. D notes the reemergence of her depressive symptoms; during her child’s latest pediatrician visit, she scores 15 on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). She breastfeeds her baby and wants more information on the safety of taking an antidepressant while breastfeeding.
Ms. D discusses her previous use of mirtazapine with her treatment team. The team reviews the available resources with Ms. D and together they plan to make a shared decision regarding treatment of her depression at her next appointment.
The American Academy of Pediatrics1 and World Health Organization2 recommend exclusive breastfeeding of infants for their first 6 months of life and support it as a complement to other foods through and beyond age 2. Untreated conditions such as postpartum depression impact maternal well-being and may interfere with parenting and child development. In fact, untreated maternal mental health leads to an increased risk of suicide, reduced maternal economic productivity, and worsened health for both mother and child.3
Because many women experience psychiatric symptoms before they become pregnant as well as during the perinatal period, questions often arise regardingthe use of psychiatric medications—specifically antidepressants—and their safety in patients who are breastfeeding. Key considerations regarding medication management should include the patient’s previous response to medications, the risks of untreated maternal mental illness, and evidence regarding risks and benefits in lactation. This article summarizes where to find evidence-based lactation information, how to interpret that information, and what information is available for select antidepressants.
Locating lactation information
Start by checking the manufacturer’s medication labeling (“prescribing information”) and medication information resources such as Micromedex (www.micromedexsolutions.com) and Lexicomp (www.wolterskluwer.com/en/solutions/lexicomp). The updated labeling includes a risk/benefit assessment of available data on the risk for continued use of a medication during pregnancy compared to the risk if a medication is discontinued and the disorder goes untreated.4 The “breastfeeding considerations” section of medication labeling include details regarding the presence of the medication and the amount of it in breastmilk, adverse events in infants exposed to the medication through breastmilk, and additional pertinent data as applicable. Lexicomp includes information regarding breastfeeding considerations, and a subscription may also include access to Briggs Drugs in Pregnancy and Lactation’s information pages. Micromedex includes its own lactation safety rating scale score.
Several other resources can help guide clinicians toward patient-specific recommendations. From the National Library of Medicine, LactMed (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501922/) allows clinicians to search for specific medications to see what information exists pertaining to medication levels in breastmilk and infant blood as well as potential adverse effects in the nursing infant and/or on lactation and breastmilk.5 LactMed provides information regarding alternative medications to consider and references from which the information was gathered.
Another helpful resource is the InfantRisk Center from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, which includes a free call center for parents and clinicians who have questions about medications and breastfeeding (806-352-2519; Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm CST). The InfantRisk Center also offers smartphone apps for clinicians as well as individuals who are pregnant or breastfeeding.6 Two commonly referenced textbooks on medications and breastfeeding include Hale’s Medication and Mother’s Milk 2023: A Manual of Lactational Pharmacology7 and Briggs Drugs in Pregnancy and Lactation: A Reference Guide to Fetal and Neonatal Risk.8
Continue to: How to interpret the information