A new study will research the best way to treat women with psychosis who then become pregnant

A new study being undertaken by The Alfred and Monash University will research the best way to treat women with psychosis who then become pregnant.

The national study will look at the best clinical practice for treating pregnant women with schizophrenia and other psychosis by setting up an Australian wide database of pregnant women with schizophrenia and related disorders. The study will follow the woman and her baby during pregnancy up to the first year of the baby's life.

Due to their condition, these women are taking anti-psychotic medication, but very little is known about the medication's effect on a foetus. However, changing or ceasing the medications by her doctor may mean the woman's condition could relapse with her experiencing periods of psychotic behaviour, this would put both mother and baby at risk of harm. There is no reassurance yet that the effects of these drugs are minimal.

Chief investigator, Professor Jayashri Kulkarni, Director of The Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre says there is a very clear need for data gathering on the use of anti-psychotics during pregnancy and its effects on the baby.

"Women with schizophrenia have the same desire as other women to have a baby, but they also must take care of their mental health," Prof Kulkarni said.

Kay McCauley, a lecturer in midwifery and mental health at the School of Nursing, Monash University is a co-investigator of the study.

Researchers plan to involve up to 100 women across Australia in the study.

With no past studies and little information available on this subject, pregnant women have been taking a chance on what drug is best for both them and their unborn child. The study will help establish the best management during the pregnancy, birth and postpartum period (first year of baby's life). This would ensure that the medical and nursing professionals could help the woman and her baby receive the most appropriate, safe and evidenced based care available.

The aim of the study is not only to improve treatment for these women but to also get information out to GPs, psychiatrists, mental health nurses and midwives on how best to treat pregnant women with this condition.

"There are very few preventative approaches available in the area of mental health, but improving antenatal care in this "at risk" population by understanding more about anti-psychotic drug safety is a highly significant preventative approach," Prof Kulkarni said.

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