The Use of Lithium and Management of Women With Bipolar Disorder During Pregnancy and Lactation

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The introduction of lithium salts almost a century ago and the subsequent approval of lithium carbonate for the treatment of patients with bipolar disorder represent one of the cornerstones of modern psychopharmacology. The onset of bipolar disorder in women often occurs during the childbearing years, which complicates the treatment decisions secondary to the possibility of conception while taking medication. The establishment of the lithium registry for fetal teratogenesis in the late 1960s ushered in a heightened level of concern for the use of lithium during the reproductive years; although, in the years to come, it has become apparent that alternative pharmacologic treatments for bipolar disorder may exceed the teratogenic risk of lithium monotherapy. In this paper, the available data on the use of antimanic medications during pregnancy and lactation are reviewed with an emphasis on providing a realistic risk/benefit assessment for medication selection and management of these patients. Treatment strategies are discussed for (1) women who are contemplating pregnancy (2) women who inadvertently conceive while taking medications (3) women who choose to become pregnant while taking medication, and (4) women who intend to breastfeed while taking medications.

J Clin Psychiatry 1998;59(suppl 6):57–64