Maternal Sertraline Treatment and Serotonin Transport in Breast-Feeding Mother-Infant Pairs

Neill Epperson, M.D., Kathryn A. Czarkowski, M.A., Deborah Ward-O’Brien, M.S.N., A.P.R.N., Erica Weiss, M.D., Ralitza Gueorguieva, Ph.D., Peter Jatlow, M.D., and George M. Anderson, Ph.D.

Am J Psychiatry 158:1631-1637, October 2001

OBJECTIVE: Pharmacological treatment of postpartum depression is frequently complicated by the mother’s desire to breast-feed. Although breast milk levels of several selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been reported to be relatively low, a critical question is whether SSRI exposure during nursing results in clinically significant blockade of serotonin (5-HT) reuptake in infants. This study determined the degree of transporter blockade in infants exposed to sertraline through maternal breast milk. METHOD: The extent of maternal and infant transporter blockade was assessed by measurement of platelet levels of 5-HT in 14 breast-feeding mother-infant pairs before and after 6–16 weeks of maternal treatment with sertraline for major depression with postpartum onset. Plasma sertraline and desmethylsertraline levels were obtained in 13 of these mothers and 11 of their infants. RESULTS: Marked declines in platelet 5-HT levels of 70%–96% were observed in mothers after sertraline treatment, 25–200 mg/day. In contrast, infants showed little or no change in platelet 5-HT levels after exposure through breast-feeding. Mean levels of maternal plasma sertraline and its major metabolite, desmethylsertraline, were 30.7 ng/ml and 45.3 ng/ml, respectively. Drug and drug metabolite concentrations in the infants were at or below the lower limit of quantitation. CONCLUSIONS: The data indicate that while mothers receiving clinical doses of sertraline experience substantial blockade of the platelet 5-HT transporter, platelet 5-HT uptake in nursing infants of treated mothers is unaltered. The observations suggest that mothers taking sertraline can breast-feed without appreciably affecting peripheral or central 5-HT transport in their infants.

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