Psychiatric disorders during pregnancy and following delivery are common:
- For the majority of women who develop mental health problems during pregnancy, this is usually a mild depressive illness, often combined with anxiety.
- Pregnancy protects against developing a serious mental illness (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depressive illness) but is not protective against relapses of pre-existing serious mental illness, especially where usual medication has been stopped at the outset of pregnancy.
- Women who have had a previous episode of a serious mental illness, either following childbirth or at other times, are at an increased risk of developing a postpartum onset illness even where they have been well during pregnancy and for many years previously. This risk is estimated as at least 50%.
- Pregnancy was thought to have a protective effect on maternal suicide rate but Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths have shown that whilst suicide during pregnancy remains relatively uncommon, suicide is a leading cause of maternal death. The majority of suicides occur following childbirth. Over half of women who died from suicide had a previous history of serious mental illness.
Women with mental health problems during pregnancy often feel stigmatised and good therapeutic relationships need to be built up. Ideally, women of reproductive age with pre-existing significant mental health problems should be encouraged to discuss pregnancy plans, enabling preconceptual counselling and medication review. Treatment decisions can be challenging, as risks and benefits need to be considered in terms of the welfare of mother and fetal dyad. Much research focuses on neonatal outcome, but neglects to consider maternal need.
National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines place emphasis on:
- Person-centred care - taking account of individual needs and preferences.
- Good communication with the patient, their family and carers and the provision of information that is accessible across any barriers such as language, culture or disability.
- Consent and capacity - due regard should be given to the prevailing legislation and guidelines on consent, including the Mental Health Act and the Mental Capacity Act. Treating adolescent patients can raise additional issues such as Fraser-Gillick competence, child protection concerns, and the Children Act.
- Early detection - enquiry regarding past psychiatric history and family history of perinatal mental illness at first contact with services in the antenatal period screening for depression.
- Initial management - where a serious mental health illness is suspected or has been diagnosed:
- Consult with/refer to specialist mental health colleagues. Specialist multidisciplinary perinatal teams should be available in all areas to provide direct services, consultation and advice to maternity services, other mental health services and community services.
- Ask about mental health at all subsequent consultations.
- Develop a written care plan in collaboration with the patient, her family, carers and specialist mental health services which should deal with the management of the condition in pregnancy, delivery and the postnatal period. This should be recorded in all copies of the patient's notes (ie those held in primary and secondary care, and hand-held obstetric notes).
- Lower thresholds for access to psychological treatments - ideally, pregnant women should be seen for treatment within a month of initial assessment, and no longer than 3 months afterwards. This target reflects the changing risk-benefit ratio for psychotropic medication over this time.
See separate article Depression in Pregnancy.
- For patients planning a pregnancy or presenting with an unplanned pregnancy, consider withdrawing existing medication and referring for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Use a lower risk drug if medication is required.
- Patients with a first attack of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) during pregnancy should be offered CBT.
- Patients with a first attack of panic disorder in pregnancy should be offered CBT, self-help or computerised CBT (C-CBT) prior to considering drug treatment.
- For patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) who are planning a pregnancy or are already pregnant, consider withdrawing medication and starting psychological therapy.
- For patients with OCD who are not already on medication, psychotherapy should be considered first-line.
- For patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) planning a pregnancy or already pregnant, withdraw medication - usually an antidepressant - and offer trauma-focused CBT or eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.
- Olanzapine is sometimes prescribed in cases resistant to a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) but should not be given in this circumstance.
- Follow the NICE guidance on eating disorders. This recommends assessment and psychological therapy in an outpatient setting wherever possible. In severe cases, inpatient treatment may be required for re-feeding.
- Medication used in anorexia may include antipsychotics, tricyclic antidepressants, macrolide antibiotics, and some antihistamines.
- Binge eating: patients who are planning a pregnancy or already pregnant should be treated as per depression.
- Bulimia: for patients planning a pregnancy or already pregnant, consider withdrawing medication gradually. If the problem persists, refer for specialist treatment. Women taking high-dose fluoxetine should be advised not to breast-feed.
- This is classified as a serious mental disorder but is now thought to encompass a spectrum of conditions. The first episode usually occurs before the age of 30. Pregnant women with bipolar disorder are more likely to discontinue treatment, often in an unplanned and abrupt way, with the risk of relapse or recurrence in women not on treatment in the postpartum period as high as 50%. All women with a history of bipolar disorder should be under the care of psychiatric services whilst pregnant and in the postpartum period, and a high level of vigilance and close monitoring is required.
- Stable patients planning a pregnancy should remain on a typical or atypical antipsychotic if the risk of relapse is high but a low dose should be chosen. Monitor for weight gain and gestational diabetes in pregnancy.
- If mild-to-moderate depression returns after stopping prophylactic medication, CBT should be offered. Moderate-to-severe depression may need antidepressant treatment (quetiapine alone, or SSRIs, but not paroxetine) combined with CBT. Patients with bipolar disorder starting antidepressant treatment should usually also be on prophylactic treatment and be monitored closely for signs of mania or hypomania. The risk of manic switching is higher with tricyclics than SSRIs.
- If a patient with an unplanned pregnancy is taking lithium, an antipsychotic should be substituted.
- If a patient develops an acute episode of mania during pregnancy, check compliance with prophylactic medication and institute or increase the dose as appropriate.
- In the event of treatment failure and severe mania, consider electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), lithium or, rarely, valproate. If valproate has to be prescribed, consider augmenting with other anti-manic medication (except carbamazepine).
- This is a major psychiatric disorder which affects about 1 in 100 people, and it usually first presents in the 20-30 age group.
- It should be treated in line with the NICE guidance on schizophrenia, except that patients on an atypical antipsychotic should be switched to low-dose haloperidol, chlorpromazine or trifluoperazine.
Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety or personality disorders, frequently coexist with alcohol or drug misuse. Individuals with 'dual diagnosis', particularly in the context of a pregnancy, will need increased support and integrated services. Substance misusers may be late bookers or erratic users of antenatal care. Screening and recognition of substance misuse is not uniform and many problems go undetected.
Alcohol is teratogenic and fetotoxic, causing fetal alcohol syndrome and other congenital abnormalities. Its use is associated with increased rates of miscarriage and preterm labour and intrauterine growth restriction, although there are important confounding factors. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) guidelines state:
- The safest approach may be to avoid any alcohol intake during pregnancy, particularly during the first trimester, but there is no evidence of harm from low levels of alcohol consumption (≤1-2 units/week).
- Binge drinking appears particularly harmful.
- Better alcohol history taking is needed to identify the high-risk group of women with problem drinking. No biochemical test is recommended to provide an objective assessment of chronic alcohol use.
- Counselling and detoxification services should be easily accessible to women. As for heavy drinkers in general, motivational interviewing, CBT and brief interventions are thought to be effective. Very little evidence regarding alcohol detoxification in pregnant women is available but severe withdrawal symptoms are risky to both mother and fetus. Expert opinion suggests inpatient detoxification with IV benzodiazepine cover.
The prevalence of heroin use amongst pregnant women is thought to be 1-2% but may be much higher in some areas. Opioid misuse is associated with a much increased risk of obstetric (eg low birthweight, third trimester bleeding, malpresentation, fetal distress and meconium aspiration) and neonatal complications (eg narcotic withdrawal, microcephaly, neurobehavioural problems, increased neonatal mortality and increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome).
- In pregnancy, goals of treatment are to prevent withdrawal syndrome and toxic opioid levels, both of which pose sizeable risk to the fetus, as well as reducing other potentially harmful behaviours (eg risk of infection associated with injecting drugs) and increasing positive health behaviours (eg attendance for antenatal care).
- Methadone maintenance programmes have been widely used in pregnancy and have been shown to result in improved maternal and fetal health. Fewer data are available for buprenorphine, but it offers similar benefits to methadone. A Cochrane review failed to find significant differences between methadone and buprenorphine in pregnancy but research data were very limited.
- Detoxification or withdrawal, if undertaken, is usually preferred in the second trimester due to increased risk of miscarriage in the first trimester and risk of premature labour and fetal stress in the third trimester.
- Advance planning as regards pain relief in labour and delivery in a unit with adequate obstetric and neonatal facilities.
Other management issues
- Sleep disorders are common amongst healthy pregnant women, with decreasing duration of sleep, increased rates of snoring and restless legs syndrome associated with progression of pregnancy. Over half of women in the third trimester report poor sleep quality.
- Women with mental health problems who have sleep disorders should be advised about sleep hygiene measures (eg bedtime routines, avoiding caffeine, reduced activity before sleep).
- Low-dose amitriptyline or chlorpromazine can be given if the problem is serious and chronic and does not respond to sleep hygiene measures.
ECT may be considered for pregnant women who have:
- Severe depression
- Severe mixed affective states or mania in the context of bipolar disorder
It may be considered for pregnant women whose physical health or that of the fetus is at serious risk. Evidence is limited but the risks to mother and fetus appear low.
There may be occasions when a woman with disturbed/violent behaviour needs to be restrained and rapidly tranquilised (eg bipolar disorder, schizophrenia). The appropriate NICE guidance for the patient group needs to be followed but in addition:
- A restrained patient should not be secluded.
- Any restraint should be so adjusted as to not harm the fetus.
- An antipsychotic or benzodiazepine with a short half-life should be considered.
- Care should be planned with the involvement of an anaesthetist and paediatrician.
The knee-jerk reaction to avoid all psychopharmacology in pregnancy is clearly wrong since untreated mental health problems may be substantially more risky than the medication itself. Any risk putatively associated with the use of psychoactive drugs should be considered in the context of the relatively high, age-related, background risk for congenital abnormalities and spontaneous abortion in the general population. The risk/benefit ratio of medication needs careful consideration, ideally in advance of pregnancy. Stopping or switching medication may risk destabilisation or relapse.
- Tricyclics - as a class, these carry the lowest known risk to the fetus, although they are more toxic in overdose than most other antidepressants (except lofepramine). There are some risks associated with individual members of the group (eg positive evidence of fetal risk with imipramine, increased risk of spontaneous abortion with trazodone).
- SSRIs - a warning was issued in 2005 advising that paroxetine should be avoided in the first trimester, as there were reports of congenital malformations, especially cardiac malformations, such as atrial and ventricular septal defects. NICE guidelines reflect this specific advice. However, more recently, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has advised that similar risks of congenital cardiac malformations are also found with fluoxetine (which was previously considered the safest SSRI) in pregnancy. The absolute risk remains small. A class effect cannot be discounted.
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) - there is limited evidence of an increased risk of congenital malformation.
- Novel drugs - some drugs such as mirtazipine are too new to have extensive data about safety. Venlafaxine is not recommended in pregnancy by the manufacturers.
- Neonatal complications - pulmonary hypertension, jitteriness, crying and hypotonia have been reported in women taking antidepressants, SSRIs and tricyclics.
Anxiolytics and hypnotics
- Benzodiazepines - there is suggestion that exposure to benzodiazepines in the first trimester may be linked to congenital malformations (eg cleft palate). Exposure in later pregnancy can result in 'floppy baby syndrome' and withdrawal symptoms in the neonate. This class of drug should only be given for chronic severe symptoms, and prescribing limited to no longer than four weeks.
- 'Z' drugs (zopiclone, zolpidem and zaleplon) - there are very little data on the fetotoxicity of these drugs, although studies on zopiclone have not shown any association with major malformations compared with controls. There have been reports of hypothermia and respiratory depression when taken in the third trimester. In view of the lack of data, the British National Formulary (BNF) recommends avoiding this class of drugs in pregnancy.
The general consensus is that most antipsychotics are not associated with malformations.
- Clozapine: this should not be routinely used in pregnancy because of the theoretical risk of agranulocytosis in the fetus, and the woman should be switched to another drug.
- Olanzapine: this can cause weight gain and gestational diabetes, so risk factors such as existing weight, ethnicity and family history need to be taken into account.
- Depot antipsychotics: these should be avoided as there are insufficient safety data, and there have been reports of extrapyramidal effects in babies several months after maternal administration.
- Anticholinergic drugs: although frequently used as an adjunct to stave off extrapyramidal side-effects, they should be avoided in pregnancy. It is safer to alter the dosage and timings of the antipsychotic.
Mood stabilising drugs
The highest teratogenic risks are associated with the anticonvulsants (valproate > carbamazepine > lamotrigine). Lithium is also associated with teratogenicity, although the risk is lower than originally thought. Lowest risks appear to be associated with the antipsychotics, although experience of the use of the newer antipsychotics in pregnancy is very limited and warrants caution with these drugs.
- This has a high teratogenic potential in the first 28 days of pregnancy.
- Long-term effects on cognitive development have been reported with exposure to valproate in pregnancy
- Women planning a pregnancy and requiring treatment for bipolar disorder should be switched to another antipsychotic.
- Women with an unplanned pregnancy should be switched as soon as possible.
- If there is no alternative to valproate, doses should be limited to a maximum of 1 gram per day, administered in divided doses and in the slow-release form, with 5 mg/day folic acid.
- Carbamazepine and lamotrigine - avoid in pregnancy because of the risk of neural tube defects and other malformations. A safer antipsychotic should be substituted.
- Lithium can cause cardiac defects in the fetus, particularly if taken in the first trimester.
- For a woman planning a pregnancy, lithium should be tailed off over four weeks (although this does not entirely remove the risk).
- If the patient requires further treatment, another antipsychotic should be introduced.
- If lithium is the only medication that controls symptoms and the patient is not going to breast-feed, it can be reintroduced in the second trimester.
Further reading & references
- Antenatal and postnatal mental health: clinical management and service guidance, NICE Clinical Guideline (2007)
- Antenatal care: routine care for the healthy pregnant woman, NICE Clinical Guideline (March 2008)
- Generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder (with or without agoraphobia) in adults (partial update), NICE Clinical Guideline (January 2011)
- Saving Mothers' Lives. Reviewing maternal deaths to make motherhood safer: 2006-2008; Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries (CMACE), BJOG. Mar 2011
- Antenatal and postnatal mental health: clinical management and service guidance, NICE Clinical Guideline (2007)
- Department of Health; Good practice in consent implementation guide: consent to examination or treatment; Department of Health; Nov 2001.
- The Mental Capacity Act 2005, Dept of Health
- Anxiety: Management of post-traumatic stress disorder in adults in primary, secondary and community care; NICE (2005)
- Shapiro F; A Brief Description of EMDR 2004
- Eating disorders - core interventions in the treatment and management of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and related eating disorders; NICE (2004)
- Evidence-based guidelines for treating bipolar disorder: revised second edition, British Association for Psychopharmacology (March 2009)
- The Management of bipolar disorder in adults, children and adolescents, in primary and secondary care; NICE (2006)
- Schizophrenia - core interventions in the treatment and management of schizophrenia in primary and secondary care, NICE Clinical Guideline (March 2009)
- Alcohol Consumption and the Outcomes of Pregnancy; Royal College of Gynaecologists, March 2006.
- Drug misuse and dependence UK guidelines on clinical management, Dept of Health (England), the Scottish Government, Welsh Assembly Government and Northern Ireland Executive (2007)
- Minozzi S, Amato L, Vecchi S, et al; Maintenance agonist treatments for opiate dependent pregnant women. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Apr 16;(2):CD006318.
- Facco FL, Kramer J, Ho KH, et al; Sleep disturbances in pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol. 2010 Jan;115(1):77-83.
- The Sleep Council; The Sleep Good Feel Good Guide 2007; Patient Information Leaflet
- Frayne J, Nguyen T, Allen S, et al; Motherhood and mental illness--part 2--management and medications. Aust Fam Physician. 2009 Sep;38(9):688-92.
- Drug Safety Update: Volume 3, Issue 8, March 2010, MHRA
|Original Author: Dr Colin Tidy||Current Version: Dr Chloe Borton|
|Last Checked: 18/02/2011||Document ID: 6927 Version: 7||© EMIS|
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