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Mood Stabilizers During Breastfeeding: A Review

J Clin Psychiatry 2000;61(2):79-90

Background: The postpartum period is an exceptionally high-risk time for recurrence of depression, mania, or psychosis for women with bipolar disorder. Puerperal prophylaxis with mood stabilizers decreases this risk. To allow patients and clinicians to make informed decisions about mood-stabilizer use during breastfeeding, there is a need for acritical review and analysis of the data.

Data Sources: A search of MEDLINE (1966-1998) and the Lithium Database, Madison Institute of Medicine, wasconducted to obtain articles about lithium, valproate, carbamazepine, gabapentin, or lamotrigine use during lactation. Search terms used were pregnancy, teratogenesis, breastfeeding, lactation, breast milk levels and lithium, anticonvulsants, mood stabilizers. No other search restrictions were used. Unpublished data on gabapentin and lamotrigine were provided by the manufacturers.

Results: The search revealed 11 cases of lithium use during breastfeeding, 8 of which reported infant serum levels. Two cases reported symptoms consistent with lithium toxicity in the infants. Thirty-nine cases of valproate use during breastfeeding were found, 8 of which reported infant serum levels. There was 1 report of thrombocytopenia and nemia in an infant. Fifty cases of carbamazepine use during breastfeeding were found, 10 of which reported infant serum levels. Two infants experienced hepatic dysfunction. One unpublished study of gabapentin in breast milk was found. Three reports of lamotrigine use during breastfeeding were found.

Discussion: Available information remains limited to uncontrolled studies and case reports. Carbamazepine and valproate, but not lithium, have generally been considered compatible with breastfeeding. The overall paucity of data, data confounded by polypharmacy and infant age differences, and adverse reactions reported with all established mood stabilizers dictate a reassessment of these recommendations. We propose that a woman's historical response to medication and the clinical circumstances be the primary considerations when choosing a mood stabilizer during breastfeeding, rather than strict adherence to categorical assignments.