Postpartum depression is extremely common following child birth. This debilitating disease can make it nearly impossible for a new mother to tend to her baby. Many mothers opt for medical treatment in order to fulfill their new role as caregivers to their newborn child. However, there are certain risks associated with the use of antidepressants like Zoloft, also known as sertraline, while breastfeeding.
What Are the Risks Associated with taking Zoloft and Breastfeeding?
Any medication consumed by the mother may be passed on to her infant through breast milk. Several studies have shown varying results. In one, no Zoloft was found in the breast milk of mothers who were nursing while taking sertraline. However, two other studies showed detectable traces of Zoloft in breast milk and even traces of sertraline in the plasma of infants breastfed by mothers taking the prescription antidepressant.
The concern, of course, is that sertraline or its metabolite norsertraline, which has an antidepressant effect that is 10% that of Zoloft, may affect the emotional, physical, or mental development of the infant. In fact, a survey of published and unpublished studies indicated that mothers prescribed an average of 83 mg of Zoloft produced breast milk with an average of 45 mcg/L of sertraline. Considering the weight of the baby, these quantities would mean the infant ingested around 0.5% of the sertraline consumed by the mother.
Having established the Zoloft can, in fact, be passed from mother to infant through breastfeeding, it is important to consider the effects on babies receiving breast milk. In an Australian study, two infants showed possible negative side effects after receiving breast milk from mothers taking Zoloft. These included agitation and involuntary muscle twitching while sleeping. While both reactions were found to be benign and later resolved themselves, other studies have shown startling negative effects.
In one study, infants that consumed sertraline via their mothers’ breast milk did not react to pain as readily or quickly as expected for children their age. No control group was used, so it is impossible to rule out the effect of taking Zoloft and breastfeeding as the cause. Moreover, the results of a large study of over 900 mothers taking antidepressants while breastfeeding suggest that 10% of infants may show signs of withdrawal once they are weaned. Symptoms include disordered sleep, eating problems, irritability, and lower than normal body temperature.
What Can Be Done?
For those concerned about the effect taking Zoloft while breastfeeding may have had on their infant, there are a number of steps that can be taken. First and foremost, concerned mothers should consider consulting with a specialist in order to start any treatment that may be necessary. For those who have experienced problems associated with breastfeeding while taking Zoloft, a class action suit is currently underway. This is important for two reasons: 1) Compensation may be available for those affected, and 2) a class action suit also helps get the word out to others so that they can avoid the same problems.