Antidepressant prevention of postnatal depression

L M Howard, S Hoffbrand, C Henshaw, L Boath, E Bradley

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review


Background Postnatal depression is a common and important complication of childbearing. Untreated depression can lead to potentially negative effects on the foetus and infant, in addition to serious morbidity for the mother. The use of antidepressants during pregnancy for prevention of postnatal depression is unclear, due to the possibility of adverse effects on the mother and developing foetus, and the difficulty of reliably identifying the women who would go on to develop postnatal depression. Objectives To evaluate the effectiveness of different antidepressant drugs in addition to standard clinical care in the prevention of postnatal depression. To compare the effectiveness of different antidepressant drugs and with any other form of intervention for postnatal depression i.e. hormonal, psychological or social support. To assess any adverse effects of antidepressant drugs in either the mother or the foetus/infant. Search strategy The register of clinical trials maintained and updated by the Cochrane Depression, Anxiety and Neurosis Group and the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group. Selection criteria Randomised studies of antidepressants alone or in combination with another treatment, compared with placebo or a psychosocial intervention in non-depressed pregnant women or women who had given birth in the previous six weeks (i.e. women at risk of postnatal depression) Data collection and analysis Data were extracted independently from the trial reports by the authors. Missing information was requested from investigators wherever possible. Data were sought to allow an "intention to treat" analysis. Main results Two trials fulfilled the inclusion criteria for this review. Both looked at women with a past history of postpartum depression. Nortriptyline (n = 26) (Wisner 2001) did not show any benefit over placebo (n = 25). Sertraline ( n = 14) Wisner 2004 reduced the recurrence of postnatal depression and the time to recurrence when compared with placebo ( n= 8). Intention to treat analyses were not carried out in either trial. Authors' conclusions It is not possible to draw any clear conclusions about the effectiveness of antidepressants given immediately postpartum in preventing postnatal depression and, therefore, cannot be recommended for prophylaxis of postnatal depression, due to the lack of clear evidence. Larger trials are needed which also include comparisons of antidepressant drugs with other prophylactic treatments to reflect clinical practice, and examine adverse effects for the foetus and infant, as well as assess womens' attitudes to the use of antidepressants at this time
Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD004363.pub2
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2005


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