Is it safe to use antipsychotics during pregnancy?

Professor Louise Howard, Clare Taylor, Professor Lucilla Poston

We don’t know enough about the risks and benefits of the drugs used to treat severe mental illness during pregnancy. Tommy’s is trying to change this.

Start date: 2013

End date: 2019

Women with severe mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are more likely to give birth too early, to babies with a low birth weight. They are also more at risk of stillbirth.

Not enough knowledge about mental health in pregnancy

At the moment, there simply isn’t enough knowledge about why. We don’t know if these women suffer because of the medications that help control their illnesses – including the effects of changing or stopping treatment. We don’t know if instead it might be because of the stress of being ill, or other factors like smoking or obesity.

Tommy’s want to find out about the risks and benefits of using psychotropic medication – drugs that affect a person’s mind or behaviour – to treat mental illness during pregnancy.

Looking at records of treatment and complications

To do this, our researchers are looking at a database that contains anonymous details of all patients who have been in contact with secondary mental health services at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, and that is linked to information about pregnancy and neonatal outcomes.

The database includes 456 pregnant women with a history of psychotic disorder, and provides us with a wealth of evidence about the mental and physical health outcomes for pregnant women with serious mental illnesses.

So far, we have used this information to find out more about medication use during pregnancy, and to see if we can predict which pregnant women are most likely to self harm or suffer a decline in their mental health during pregnancy or after giving birth.

1 in 10 pregnant women with severe mental illness self-harm


We found that almost 1 in 10 pregnant women with a severe mental illness self harm. We are continuing to analyse data, and are also sharing information with other researchers internationally, so that studies can be carried out in much larger groups of women.

Get our research updates

Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for pregnancy complications and loss. We can keep you updated on our research news. If you're interested in being kept updated about our research and news from Tommy's, click here.


This study takes place in a Tommy's centre and is funded by Tommy's, the King's College London Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, and the National Institute for Health Research

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