The Use of Tricyclic Antidepressants and Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors in Women Who Are Breastfeeding

Dale H. Whitby, Pharm.D.; Kelly M. Smith, Pharm.D.

Pharmacotherapy. 2005 Mar;25(3):411-25.

(Pharmacotherapy: Official Journal of the American College of Clinical Pharmacy)


Postpartum depression is a well-recognized psychiatric condition that has gained increased attention over the past decade due to several nationally publicized tragedies. Medical management of this condition in women who are breastfeeding provides a unique challenge to health care professionals who may seek to maintain a fine balance between limiting the infant’s exposure to hormone-altering drugs and maintaining the benefits of breastfeeding. No controlled trials have examined antidepressant therapy in nursing women; however, numerous case reports and case series have been published. Relatively few serious adverse effects have been reported. Although tricyclic antidepressants have been the treatment of choice in the past, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are gaining popularity due to their superior safety profiles. Of all the agents reviewed in the literature, sertraline was the most prescribed, and no adverse effects were reported. Therefore, this agent would be a good first choice for treatment-naïve women. For treatment of postpartum depression in women with a history of successfully treated depression, the most practical approach may be to continue therapy with the previously effective agent. Treatment should be maintained at the lowest effective dosage to minimize infant exposure. Both mother and child should be closely monitored; in addition, collaboration between the prescribing physician and the child’s pediatrician is essential.

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