Psychotropic Treatment during Pregnancy: Research Synthesis and Clinical Care Principles

Hannah K. Betcher*, Katherine L. Wisner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)310-318
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Women's Health
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2020


  • SSRI
  • antidepressants
  • breastfeeding
  • perinatal depression
  • pregnancy
  • psychotropic medications

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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