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I’m a 34 year old woman who was diagnosed 10 years ago with schizophrenia. I manage my mental illness with daily medication and therapy. Most days I generally feel fine. I am in a relationship with a wonderful and supportive man. We both want to have children but are concerned about how my illness might affect a child. Would I need to go off my medications if I’m pregnant? Would my meds affect the baby? Would my mental illness be transmitted to my child?

Written by our medical expert Dr. Beth Taylor, co-founder and co-director of Olive Fertility Centre, Vancouver, British Columbia.  

Thank you for your question – it’s a good one!  Mental illness is not caused entirely by genes but having a family history does increase one’s risk of developing schizophrenia.  While 1% of people have schizophrenia, those who have a parent with schizophrenia have a 5 – 10% chance of developing it.  Remember that means there is a >= 90% chance your child would not develop schizophrenia.

There are three things to consider when deciding whether to go off of your medications prior to pregnancy:

1)      Some medications for mental illness can make it hard to get pregnant while you are taking them. Several types of medications for mental illness can cause a hormone called prolactin to rise.  When prolactin is high, ovulation (egg release) may stop. Usually when ovulation stops, the woman’s period becomes irregular or stops all together so if that’s the case you may need to switch your medication dose or type so you can ovulate and conceive.

2)      Some medications can be harmful to the fetus. Unfortunately most of the anti-schizophrenia medications have not been well studied during pregnancy. While cases of babies born with brain defects and symptoms of medical-withdrawal have been reported, many healthy babies have been born to women taking such medications.

3)      It is important that your medications not be changed too dramatically prior to, or during, pregnancy so that your schizophrenia symptoms do not worsen. Most women in your situation would stay on their medications throughout a pregnancy because a healthy mother is best for the baby.

My advice is to speak with your psychiatrist and your family physician about these issues so they can work together to help you realize your dream of becoming a mother. Good luck in your plans for pregnancy!

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