The Shit No One Tells You About Taking Meds During Pregnancy

Feb 5, 2021 | Health, Hospital, Pregnancy, The Shit No One Tells You

Most of us take medication at some point during our lives, but what happens to the impact of these when we’re pregnant? Steph gives her firsthand account of baby withdrawal and difficult decisions. So will she do things differently this time around? You may be surprised…

This is a guest post, written by an author who has chosen to feature on EatWeepMumRepeat, and not Lex (the usual blogger). ‘The Shit No One Tells You About…’ series will follow a whole host of parents sharing their unique parenting experiences and stories. If you’d like to take part and write, get in touch at eatweepmumrepeatAToutlookDOTCOM or slide into my DMs on Instagram.

You may know Steph as the Divamum, the self-proclaimed oversharer and overswearer! She chronicles life as a parent with a chronic illness brilliantly on her Instagram and if there’s one thing she’s known for, it’s her honesty. She’s always up for a chipper chat or a very frank discussion and can be counted on to say it as it is. 

This is Steph’s personal experience, and as we all know, we’re all different. If you’re concerned about taking medication at any point in your life, speak to your Doctor, relevant healthcare professional or pharmacist to learn more. Most GPs surgeries have an on-site pharmacist you can request a callback from, so don’t be afraid to ask.

So, on to her story… The Shit No One Tells You About Taking Medication During Pregnancy.

“Hi! I’m Steph, I’m a 32-year-old avid writer and keen chronic illness and mental health advocate; winging the shit out of mum life one curse word at a time!

Even when you need it, medication doesn’t ever come without risks.

In my first pregnancy I was taking antidepressants to manage my mental health. I have a history of poor mental health and was prescribed antidepressants for the first time aged just thirteen. I haven’t always taken them, I’ve had long periods of good mental health along the way too, but it’s been an on-off journey. I also have a condition called PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder) causing severe and abnormal mood swings in response to normal hormone fluctuation, which isn’t helped when you’re flooded with hormones because of pregnancy!

When I found out I was pregnant I had been medication-free for a period of time, but my mental health took a dip when the hormones kicked in. By the end of my pregnancy, I was wheelchair bound with Symphis Pubis Dysfunction and taking the highest possible dose of antidepressants available. The meds I was taking were prescribed, but this doesn’t mean they were without risk. The impact medication has as well as the side-effects it can bring may vary with pregnancy but they’re never negated entirely.

Doctors and Medical Staff can get it wrong sometimes. 

Did I worry about the effect my prescription was having on my baby? In truth, no I didn’t. 

Why? Because my doctor told me it was, and I quote,“completely safe” for me to take during pregnancy. In hindsight I should have done my own research, but I didn’t because we all know what happens when you Google something…. it tells you you’re going to grow a dick on your forehead and die. I didn’t want to know the negatives, I just had to stay well, and my sense-check was checking with my GP who advised this type of antidepressant was actually recommended for pregnant women. 

It turns out that although safe during pregnancy for mothers, the prescription could cause serious medical implications for my baby post-birth. I wasn’t told this – and I might have taken a different course of action if I had been. Ask, ask, and ask again for info and shout for it if you need help.

Medication withdrawal is common in babies.

What I know now is that 1 in 3 babies born to mothers taking antidepressant medication during pregnancy will suffer a form of withdrawal (withdrawal rates vary for other types of meds). This can be easily dealt with if it’s recognised and the mother and medical staff know what’s going on.

At the time however, I was clueless as to why my new baby started convulsing, became tachycardic and was snatched from my arms and rushed to intensive care. I was terrified. When I did eventually find out the reason hours later, I was absolutely mortified and racked with guilt, only serving to escalate my poor mental health to crisis point. My daughter spent ten long and agonising days in NICU, being scored daily on what is known as The Finnegan Scale, a scoring system used specifically to treat babies in withdrawal. 

I wish I’d known just how common withdrawal is for babies. As of today, the current practice is any baby born to a mother taking antidepressants while pregnant is to monitor the infant in hospital for up to 48hrs after birth. We had no monitoring in place for our daughter because we were unaware and the oversight had persisted with staff. The only reason I was still in hospital is because I had preeclampsia and needed my blood pressure checked every hour – so thank god I was still there! 

When my husband and I raised the alarm that our baby was fractious and jittery the midwife who entered our room told me to ‘put her back on the boob’… only I wasn’t even breastfeeding. It was only after an older midwife who was renowned for getting babies to settle tried and failed to settle our little girl, that we started to be taken seriously. Thankfully, once understood and diagnosed properly with the eventual close monitoring our daughter made an exceptional recovery. She was in discomfort for a long time, though, and screamed for 15hrs a day for at least ten months following discharge from the hospital. This was really traumatic for me as well as her, and whenever I think of having a newborn now, I am reminded of trauma.

Research speaks for itself most of the time, but not always when it comes to pregnant women.

Specific drug testing is not often carried on expectant mothers, so don’t read medical research and assume it applies directly to you. Your doctor, healthcare professional or pharmacist will be able to advise further.

For specific information on medications in pregnancy, including if you’ve already taken them, visit BUMPS (Best Use of Medication in Pregnancies) and the NHS advice site.

So, you might be chewing over the question of ‘If I had to do it again would I have quit the medication?’ And the answer is: No. 

I’m pregnant again now, and though I don’t take antidepressants currently, due to chronic physical illness, I am taking several medicines all posing their own mild but still present withdrawal risks. It’s not ideal and it hasn’t been easy trying to reduce the dosage safely whilst staying well, but my saviour this time is, I know the risks. 

My husband and I have been fully supported by our medical team (probably because of how loud I shout – don’t be afraid to!) and we have been assured close monitoring of our baby will be standard. I have already been booked in for several additional scans and I’m prepared for the fact a hospital stay will likely be necessary post-delivery. 

The best choices are informed choices.

I don’t encourage stopping medications of any kind, particularly for mental health, abruptly. Be that during pregnancy or otherwise, I do believe in giving expectant mothers facts and helping them to make their own informed choices. It’s never my intention to scare people into coming off of medication – I myself haven’t been able to do that even after going through what we did. But had we known of the risks with our first baby we would have been equipped with the knowledge of what to look out for and the situation could have been dealt with differently: we would have done our research on babies that experience withdrawal and looked into how to support her prior to it actually happening. As it was, her dad and I were two fish very much out of water and in turn I blamed myself, which led to a long battle with post-natal depression. 

Your mental health STILL matters even if you’re pregnant, what’s important is you are given all of the options available to you and the necessary support to make the right decisions for your family. Nobody wants to wake up from a nap after twelve hours in labour to find their baby inconsolable and learn the reason could be down to the medication they were taking. You are not to blame for your illness(es) and it’s never your fault if you need support to manage them, but it can feel a lot like it is your fault if you’re ill-informed to begin with. 

Kids who suffer withdrawal can still FLOURISH.

I mentioned earlier that our daughter screamed for long periods for many months and that’s true, she did. However, she was also crawling at six months and exceeding milestones even during those periods of fractiousness. She has needed no long-term medical intervention, no extra health visitor checks, and made a full and healthy recovery well within her first year. 

We now have a very happy 4yr old who is much like any other… never shuts up, is a shit eater, is full of sass, and we wouldn’t change her for the world. She has flourished and her early symptoms have caused no long-term troubles.

Our experience was unnecessarily traumatic and that’s the reason I share this with you today. Never be afraid to ask questions, do your own research and get a second opinion if you need to. Poor health doesn’t have to stop you having a healthy baby, but knowing all the relevant implications surrounding your medication might help you make the right choices for you.”

The header image on this blog was taken by Myriam Zilles, for Unsplash.