Antidepressant Use in Pregnancy Can Affect Newborn



MONDAY, Oct. 5, 2009 ( — More than 1 in 10 women develops depression during pregnancy. Now, a new study suggests that women who are treated with antidepressants are more likely to give birth early or to have newborns that need to spend time in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Depression itself can have ill effects for both mom and baby. Therefore, the benefits of the antidepressants—known as selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)—may still outweigh the risks for some women, researchers say.

“There is no easy way out of this,” says Tim Oberlander, MD, a developmental pediatrician at BC Children’s Hospital, in Vancouver, who has studied the effects of SSRIs on children exposed in the womb, but was not involved in the current study. “Depression needs to be managed, and for some women, the use of these medications is appropriate and necessary.”

The new study, led by Najaaraq Lund, MD, of Aarhus University, in Denmark, found that babies whose mothers had taken SSRIs were born earlier and were more likely to require treatment in an NICU.

Women have been using SSRIs during pregnancy since the early 1990s, Dr. Lund and her colleagues point out in the report, which is published in the October issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. These drugs, which include Zoloft, Prozac, and others, are widely considered to be the safest type of antidepressant medication to take during pregnancy. It’s been difficult to confirm their safety, however, especially since investigators have to find a way to distinguish between the effects of depression itself—and habits that depressed women may be more likely to engage in, like drinking and smoking—and the drug on the newborn.

Dr. Lund and her colleagues tackled this issue by including a group of women who reported a history of some type of psychiatric illness but weren’t taking SSRIs. Some, but not all, of these women had suffered from depression. “Using this group as a comparison group takes into account possible genetic or lifestyle factors associated with present or previous psychiatric disorders,” the researcher notes.

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