Escitalopram use while Breastfeeding
Drugs containing Escitalopram: Lexapro
Escitalopram Levels and Effects while Breastfeeding
Summary of Use during Lactation
Escitalopram is the S-isomer of the antidepressant, citalopram. Limited information indicates that maternal doses of escitalopram up to 20 mg daily produce low levels in milk and would not be expected to cause any adverse effects in breastfed infants, especially if the infant is older than 2 months. Based on limited data, escitalopram appears to be preferable to racemic citalopram during breastfeeding because of the lower dosage and milk levels and general lack of adverse reactions in breastfed infants. One case of necrotizing enterocolitis was reported in an breastfed newborn whose mother was taking escitalopram during pregnancy and lactation, but causality was not established. Monitor the infant for drowsiness, especially in younger, exclusively breastfed infants and when using combinations of psychotropic drugs. Mothers taking an SSRI during pregnancy and postpartum may have more difficulty breastfeeding and may need additional breastfeeding support. Breastfed infants exposed to an SSRI during the third trimester of pregnancy have a lower risk of poor neonatal adaptation than formula-fed infants.
Escitalopram is the S -isomer of racemic citalopram which is metabolized to 2 metabolites, each having antidepressant activity considered to be about 13% that of citalopram.
Maternal Levels. Eight women taking escitalopram in an average dosage of 199 mcg/kg daily (10 to 20 mg daily) had 6 to 8 milk steady-state milk samples analyzed over the 24-hour interval after their single daily dose. The average dosage that an exclusively breastfed infant would receive was calculated to be 7.6 mcg/kg of escitalopram and 3 mcg/kg of desmethylcitalopram daily which were 3.9% and 1.7% of the maternal weight-adjusted dosages, respectively. The absolute dosage was about 40% less than a previous study by the same authors with racemic citalopram.
A woman taking escitalopram had milk escitalopram concentrations measured twice. While taking a dosage of 5 mg daily, milk escitalopram was 24.9 mcg/L at 20 hours after the dose. While taking 10 mg escitalopram daily and valproic acid 1200 mg daily, milk escitalopram was 76.1 mcg/L at 15 hours after the dose. Using these two data points, the authors estimated that the infant received 5.1 and 7.7% of the maternal weight-adjusted dosage of escitalopram on these days, respectively.
One woman was taking escitalopram 20 mg daily and reboxetine 4 mg daily orally while nursing her 9.5-month-old infant. She collected milk samples before each breastfeeding session over a 1-day period. The authors estimated that the infant would receive 4.6% of the maternal-weight-adjusted dosage of escitalopram plus desmethylescitalopram.
Infant Levels. One study found that racemic citalopram serum levels in infants were determined by their CYP2C19 genotype, with slow metabolizers more likely to have detectable serum levels. Pharmacogenetics likely plays a part in determining the exposure of breastfed infants to escitalopram also.
In 8 breastfed infants whose mothers were taking an average of 199 mcg/kg daily of escitalopram (10 or 20 mg daily), escitalopram and desmethylescitalopram were undetectable in the serum of 3 infants (<1 mcg/L). The drug and metabolite serum levels were less than 5 mcg/L in all the other infants. Their mothers' serum levels of the drug and metabolite averaged 24 and 20 mcg/L, respectively.
Effects in Breastfed Infants
Eight breastfed infants whose mothers were taking escitalopram in an average dose of 199 mcg/kg daily for postpartum depression were evaluated by a pediatric specialist using the Denver developmental scale. Their mothers had taken escitalopram for a median of 55 days postpartum (range 23 to 240 days). The infants' scores on this scale was 110% of normal.
A woman began taking escitalopram 5 mg daily immediately after birth. Her dosage was increased to 10 mg daily and valproic acid 1200 mg daily was added by 7 weeks postpartum. Her breastfed infant was judged to be healthy and have normal neuropsychological development by a general practitioner at 7.5 weeks of age.
One woman was taking escitalopram 20 mg daily and reboxetine 4 mg daily orally while nursing her infant (extent not stated). She had taken reboxetine for 1.5 months, but the start of her escitalopram therapy was not stated. At 9.5 months of age, her breastfed infant had normal weight gain and a Denver developmental score of 105% of chronological age.
A nursing mother was given escitalopram 10 mg daily for depression beginning at 3 weeks postpartum and increasing to 20 mg daily thereafter. At 4 months of age, her exclusively breastfed infant was admitted to the hospital for irritability, vomiting and fever of 4 days duration. He had been irritable with prolonged periods of crying for the past 3 months according to his mother and had gained only 400 grams per month since birth. Liver enzymes were moderately elevated. The infant was discharged after 5 days and breastfeeding was continued, but only twice daily for 2 weeks, then discontinued at 4.5 months of age. At 5 months, symptom improvement was noted and at 6 months, serum liver enzymes had normalized. The author noted that the time course of the adverse effects were consistent with the treatment with escitalopram.
A mother began taking escitalopram 20 mg daily in the morning on day 15 postpartum. She exclusively breastfed her infant on demand. At 3 months of age, no adverse effects had been reported in the infant by his pediatrician.
At 5 days of age, an infant was readmitted to the neonatal intensive care unit with a diagnosis of necrotizing enterocolitis. The infant had spent the first 2 days of life in intensive care because of respiratory distress. The infant's mother had taken escitalopram 20 mg daily throughout pregnancy and while breastfeeding (extent not stated). The authors hypothesized that escitalopram might have been responsible for the enterocolitis because of its effect on platelet aggregation. The drug was possibly a cause of the reaction.
One author reported on the newborn infant of a mother who was taking escitalopram (dose and duration not stated). The hyperirritable infant had high-pitched crying 2 hours after breastfeeding every afternoon which was 5 to 6 hours after maternal dose of escitalopram. Changing the time of the mother's escitalopram dose resulted in a shift in the time of the infant's crying at the same time interval after the dose. The infant's symptoms improved with partial substitution of formula and ceased on day 11 of life with complete formula feeding.
An uncontrolled online survey compiled data on 930 mothers who nursed their infants while taking an antidepressant. Infant drug discontinuation symptoms (e.g., irritability, low body temperature, uncontrollable crying, eating and sleeping disorders) were reported in about 10% of infants. Mothers who took antidepressants only during breastfeeding were much less likely to notice symptoms of drug discontinuation in their infants than those who took the drug in pregnancy and lactation.
A 6.5-month-old infant developed severe vomiting and an apparent tonic seizure after being breastfed by her mother. The mother had been taking escitalopram 10 mg daily since birth and had begun extended-release bupropion 150 mg daily 3 weeks earlier. The seizure occurred 8 hours after the mother's morning dose of bupropion. The infant's mother had noted disturbances in sleep behavior, unusual movements, and unresponsiveness followed by sleep on several previous occasions. The baby was partially breastfed, also receiving pumped breastmilk, formula, and solid foods. Breastfeeding was discontinued and the baby was discharged after being asymptomatic for 48 hours. The seizure was probably drug-related, most likely caused by bupropion and hydroxybupropion in breastmilk, but a contribution by escitalopram cannot be ruled out.
A cohort of 247 infants exposed to an antidepressant in utero during the third trimester of pregnancy were assessed for poor neonatal adaptation (PNA). Of the 247 infants, 154 developed PNA. Infants who were exclusively given formula had about 3 times the risk of developing PNA as those who were exclusively or partially breastfed. None of the infants were exposed to escitalopram in utero, but 51 were exposed to citalopram, the racemic form of the drug.
Effects on Lactation and Breastmilk
The SSRI class of drugs, including escitalopram, can cause increased prolactin levels and galactorrhea in nonpregnant, nonnursing patients. Euprolactinemic galactorrhea has also been reported. The prolactin level in a mother with established lactation may not affect her ability to breastfeed.
In a small prospective study, 8 primiparous women who were taking a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SRI; 3 taking fluoxetine and 1 each taking citalopram, duloxetine, escitalopram, paroxetine or sertraline) were compared to 423 mothers who were not taking an SRI. Mothers taking an SRI had an onset of milk secretory activation (lactogenesis II) that was delayed by an average of 16.7 hours compared to controls (85.8 hours postpartum in the SRI-treated mothers and 69.1 h in the untreated mothers), which doubled the risk of delayed feeding behavior in the untreated group. However, the delay in lactogenesis II may not be clinically important, since there was no statistically significant difference between the groups in the percentage of mothers experiencing feeding difficulties after day 4 postpartum.
A case control study compared the rate of predominant breastfeeding at 2 weeks postpartum in mothers who took an SSRI antidepressant throughout pregnancy and at delivery (n = 167) or an SSRI during pregnancy only (n = 117) to a control group of mothers who took no antidepressants (n = 182). Among the two groups who had taken an SSRI, 33 took citalopram, 18 took escitalopram, 63 took fluoxetine, 2 took fluvoxamine, 78 took paroxetine, and 87 took sertraline. Among the women who took an SSRI, the breastfeeding rate at 2 weeks postpartum was 27% to 33% lower than mother who did not take antidepressants, with no statistical difference in breastfeeding rates between the SSRI-exposed groups.
Alternate Drugs to Consider
1. Weissman AM, Levy BT, Hartz AJ et al. Pooled analysis of antidepressant levels in lactating mothers, breast milk, and nursing infants. Am J Psychiatry. 2004;161:1066-78. PMID: 15169695
2. Rampono J, Hackett LP, Kristensen JH et al. Transfer of escitalopram and its metabolite demethylescitalopram into breastmilk. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2006;3:316-22. PMID: 16934048
3. Castberg I, Spigset O. Excretion of escitalopram in breast milk. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2006;26:536-8. PMID: 16974204
4. Hackett LP, Ilett KF, Rampono J et al. Transfer of reboxetine into breastmilk, its plasma concentrations and lack of adverse effects in the breastfed infant. Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 2006;62:633-8. PMID: 16699799
5. Berle JO, Steen VM, Aamo TO et al. Breastfeeding during maternal antidepressant treatment with serotonin reuptake inhibitors: infant exposure, clinical symptoms, and cytochrome P450 genotypes. J Clin Psychiatry. 2004;65:1228-34. PMID: 15367050
6. Merlob P. Use of escitalopram during lactation. BELTIS Newsl. 2005;Number 13:40-4.
7. Gentile S. Escitalopram late in pregnancy and while breast-feeding. Ann Pharmacother. 2006;40:1696-7. PMID: 16912243
8. Potts AL, Young KL, Carter BS, Shenai JP. Necrotizing enterocolitis associated with in utero and breast milk exposure to the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, escitalopram. J Perinatol. 2007;27:120-2. PMID: 17262045
9. Schaefer C, Peters P, Miller RK, eds. Drugs during pregnancy and lactation. Treatment options and risk assessment, 2nd ed. Amsterdam; Boston: Elsevier Academic Press. 2007:714-5.
10. Hale TW, Kendall-Tackett K, Cong Z et al. Discontinuation syndrome in newborns whose mothers took antidepressants while pregnant or breastfeeding. Breastfeed Med. 2010;5:283-8. PMID: 20807106
11. Neuman G, Colantonio D, Delaney S et al. Bupropion and escitalopram during lactation. Ann Pharmacother. 2014;48:928-31. PMID: 24732787
12. Kieviet N, Hoppenbrouwers C, Dolman KM et al. Risk factors for poor neonatal adaptation after exposure to antidepressants in utero. Acta Paediatr. 2015;104:384-91. PMID: 25559357
13. Arya DK, Taylor WS. Lactation associated with fluoxetine treatment. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 1995;29:697. Letter. PMID: 8825840
14. Egberts ACG, Meyboom RHB, De Koning FHP et al. Non-puerperal lactation associated with antidepressant drug use. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 1997;44:277-81. PMID: 9296322
15. Iancu I, Ratzoni G, Weitzman A et al. More fluoxetine experience. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1992;31:755-6. Letter. PMID: 1644743
16. Gonzalez Pablos E, Minguez Martin L, Hernandez Fernandez M et al. [A clinical case of galactorrhoea after citalopram treatment]. Actas Esp Psiquiatr. 2001;29:414. PMID: 11730581
17. Gulsun M, Algul A, Semiz UB et al. A case with euprolactinemic galactorrhea induced by escitalopram. Int J Psychiatry Med. 2007;37:275-8. PMID: 18314855
18. Aggarwal A, Kumar R, Sharma RC, Sharma DD. Escitalopram induced galactorrhoea: a case report. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2010;34:557-8. PMID: 20138200
19. Shim SH, Lee YJ, Lee EC. A case of galactorrhea associated with excitalopram (sic). Psychiatry Investig. 2009;6:230-2. PMID: 20046401
20. Mahasuar R , Majhi P, Ravan JR. Euprolactinemic galactorrhea associated with use of imipramine and escitalopram in a postmenopausal woman. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2010;32:341.e11-3. PMID: 20430243
21. Marshall AM, Nommsen-Rivers LA, Hernandez LL et al. Serotonin transport and metabolism in the mammary gland modulates secretory activation and involution. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010;95:837-46. PMID: 19965920
22. Gorman JR, Kao K, Chambers CD. Breastfeeding among women exposed to antidepressants during pregnancy. J Hum Lact. 2012;28:181-8. PMID: 22344850
CAS Registry Number
Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
Antidepressive Agents, Second-Generation
LactMed Record Number
Last Revision Date
Information presented in this database is not meant as a substitute for professional judgment. You should consult your healthcare provider for breastfeeding advice related to your particular situation. The U.S. government does not warrant or assume any liability or responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of the information on this Site.