Xanax — a brand name for alprazolam — is a prescription benzodiazepine that works by calming central nervous system impulses. As neurotransmitters fire off in the brain, they cause emotional and behavioral reactions. When levels of certain neurotransmitters known as GABA are too low, they can cause mood disturbances. Increasing those levels often works to mitigate emotional and behavioral side effects.
Xanax is a powerful drug that can be highly effective in treating anxiety, trouble sleeping, panic disorder, and other symptoms. PsychCentral notes among almost 500 pregnant women who were tested, 20 percent exhibited symptoms of anxiety disorders, depression, or both. Xanax also has a high potential for abuse, and it is not an appropriate form of treatment for everyone.
When Is Xanax Not Safe?
Even when anxiety and depression are present, there are certain individuals who should not use Xanax. Pregnant women fall into that category. Mental health disorders that warrant the need for a medication like Xanax occur in around 500,000 pregnant women every single year, according to Harvard Health Publications. Women are more likely to receive a prescription for a benzodiazepine than men are, per EMedicineHealth.
Sometimes women suffer from anxiety prior to getting pregnant, and other times, being an expectant mother can add a certain amount of stress that brings anxiety. Hormones also play a hefty role in the development of anxiety and panic. WBUR News notes a 60 percent increased likelihood of suffering from anxiety disorders among females, as compared to men. This risk likely stems from women being prone to higher amounts of both estrogen and progesterone — two sex hormones with proven ties to mental and emotional woes, such as depression, anxiety, and trouble concentrating.
Complications in Pregnancy
Women who suffer from anxiety before getting pregnant may experience a steep increase in symptoms while they’re expecting. Even those who have never had issues with anxiety at all can develop them while pregnant. Anxiety isn’t just a consequence of worry or going through a hard time. It is often spurred by hormonal fluctuations.
In fact, women can experience many symptoms during pregnancy that are similar to those that might be experienced during menopause, and they’re all due to increased levels of hormones. While pregnant, the body produces more progesterone in those nine months alone than it does outside of pregnancy during a woman’s entire reproductive life cycle. This hormone is known to predispose moms-to-be to turbulent mood swings.
Where does Xanax come in as a contributing factor? Contrary to popular belief, prescriptions do not automatically convey safety. In fact, 1.2 million people who were treated in emergency rooms in 2009 had problems that arose from pharmaceutical drug abuse, whereas only 974,000 people were treated for similar problems stemming from illicit drug abuse, the White House reports.
Xanax is classified as a Schedule IV controlled substance and Category D risk in pregnancy.
This means studies have been completed on the drug, and it has been proven to carry certain risks. Risks to a developing fetus are numerous. It has been linked to neonatal depression in newborns, trademarked by depressed breathing that leads to death in some cases. Separate studies confirm the presence of delayed motor development and mental retardation in seven out of eight children whose mothers used benzodiazepines while pregnant, per the American Academy of Pediatrics.
There is reason to suspect withdrawal in infants born to mothers who use Xanax during pregnancy or while nursing postpartum. These babies often exhibit symptoms, such as irritability and trouble sleeping, when the drug use ceases. Xanax is excreted in breastmilk, so it is also unsafe for use in non-pregnant nursing mothers as it can be passed on to infants. Drugs.com reported on one study wherein a mean peak amount of 3.7 mcg/L of Xanax was detected in breastmilk 1.1 hours after ingestion of a single 0.5-mg dose by eight new mothers.
There is also potential for these drugs to impact your milk supply. In many cases, the drug causes an increase in prolactin, which actually boosts milk production. At the same time, when prolactin levels go up, progesterone levels go down, and this can affect other hormone levels and consequently moods.
More Topics Covering Pregnancy
If a woman does get pregnant while using or abusing Xanax, alternative treatments may be used to address anxiety, such as:
- Diet changes
- Massage therapy
- Natural supplements and herbal remedies
Acupuncture has long been touted as an appropriate treatment for mood issues. PsychCentral reports a 42 percent improvement in depressive symptoms in a treatment group compared to just 22 percent improvement in a placebo group. Meditation can greatly enhance overall mood for anyone, pregnant or not. HealthDay notes the results of one study in which 3,515 people were trained in mindfulness meditation and reported 5-10 percent improvements in their levels of anxiety and 10-20 percent improvements in depression levels.
Outside of pharmaceuticals, many people find success in treating mood with essential oils, eating a balanced diet that excludes heavily processed foods, and engaging in regular exercise.
Certain forms of activity can be quite beneficial to reducing anxiety.
In an experiment analyzing the efficacy of yoga on lowering anxiety levels among pregnant women who were divided into two groups, those in the yoga group reported a one-third reduction in anxiety and 14 percent reduction in stress hormone levels after the first session. The results remained fairly consistent over the course of the eight-week study, Advocate Health Care reports.
With doctor approval, certain herbal supplements may also be beneficial when trying to address mental health symptoms without prescription drugs. Probiotics are safe for use during pregnancy to aid in gut health and promote digestion during detox. As an added side effect, they can ease discomfort by helping the body to better process toxins. Among other supplements, L-theanine — an amino acid — is considered safe while pregnant and can assist in alleviating symptoms of anxiety, tension, and depression. Magnesium is also generally acceptable to take in controlled doses to boost natural levels of the mineral that are often depleted by powerful drugs like Xanax.
If a woman is abusing Xanax and pregnant, the sooner she can stop taking the drug, the better off she and her baby will be. That being said, quitting Xanax abruptly is never advised, not even when a woman is expecting. Not only is withdrawal too intense for the mom; it is even harder on a developing child. Weaning off Xanax via medical detox is even more important while pregnant, and the duration of the tapering period may be extended somewhat to facilitate a calmer experience.
Medical detox serves to keep both mom and baby safe from harm while ridding the body of Xanax and the consequences it can present. Stopping cold turkey is never recommended for anyone, but it is especially true for an expectant mother. In addition to the associated health risks, only about 5 percent of people who quit using drugs this way will continue to abstain in the long run, Wired Magazine reports. Spikes in blood pressure, bouts of anxiety, suicidal ideation, and other symptoms that can ensue during withdrawal could put the developing baby and the mom at serious risk for preterm labor and other complications.