Psychotropic drugs in mothers' milk: a comprehensive review of assay methods, pharmacokinetics and of safety of breast-feeding

Yoshida, K.; Smith, B.; Kumar, R.

Journal of Psychopharmacology 13(1): 64-80


ISSN/ISBN: 0269-8811
PMID: 10221361
DOI: 10.1177/026988119901300108
Accession: 011223929

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Many mentally ill women want to breast-feed their babies but, if they are taking psychotropic drugs, there is very little systematic data upon which to base decisions about whether or not it is safe to do so. We therefore attempt to provide a comprehensive and critical summary of existing case reports and of studies of breast-feeding in relation to commonly used psychotropic drugs. The literature review focuses on the following drugs: antidepressants: tricyclics and serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs); antipsychotic drugs: chlorpromazine, perphenazine, haloperidol and clozapine; mood stabilizers: lithium and carbamazepine; and benzodiazepines. The research literature consists mainly of single case reports and there have been very few attempts at controlled, longitudinal investigations. Findings are often difficult to compare because of differences in methods or because of lack of key information. Most data are available about the tricyclic antidepressants but even here we have found that the reports cover only a grand total of 66 mother-infant pairs. Dilemmas about whether or not to contraindicate breast-feeding arise most commonly in relation to postnatal depression. The findings to date suggest that provided that infants are healthy at the outset it is likely that the benefits of breast-feeding will outweigh potential hazards if their mothers are taking established tricyclic drugs at recommended dose levels. Much less is known about risks associated with SSRI antidepressants or about antipsychotic drugs such as phenothiazines and butyrophenones or mood stabilizers such as carbamazepine, all of which enter breast-milk. Safeguards are suggested for future single case studies, which, as they accumulate, will provide a platform for mounting controlled prospective studies properly to test for any acute toxic effects and for possible long-term adverse effects of such drugs on infants' development. Appendix 1 is a review of assay methods. Appendix 2 examines pharmacokinetic factors in newborn preterm and sick infants with special reference to contraindications to breast-feeding. Appendix 3 is a review of methods for assessing infant health and development.