Mums-to-be who take antidepressants during pregnancy may feel less depressed, but what are the consequences for the baby? According to new research, the babies of women who take SSRIs – the most widely prescribed type of antidepressant – are more at risk of impaired brain development and seem more likely to develop autism.
Researchers of the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam investigated nearly eight thousand pregnant women, 99 of whom took SSRIs. They found that children born to mothers using SSRIs had a more pronounced smaller head circumference growth, what probably has lasting negative effects on brain development. “Brain growth and head growth are closely linked “, says leading researcher Henning Tiemeier. He studied 3 quarters of the data of the children who are now 5 years old, and found that the children who were exposed in utero to SSRIs have more problems with autism.
Doctors prescribe SSRIs because they assume that it is a safe drug, says Tiemeier in Dutch newspaper “De Volkskrant”. He points out that half of the participating pregnant women who took antidepressants were not seriously mentally ill, and that a child should not be jeopardized by the risk that the mother may become depressed during pregnancy.
“Our findings further raise the question whether maternal SSRI treatment during pregnancy is better or worse for the fetus than untreated maternal depression,” wrote study author Hanan El Marroun. “Clinicians must carefully weigh the known risks of untreated depression during pregnancy and the possible adverse effects of SSRIs.”
El Marroun, H., Jaddoe, V., Hudziak, J., Roza, S., Steegers, E., Hofman, A., Verhulst, F., White, T., Stricker, B., & Tiemeier, H. (2012). Maternal Use of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, Fetal Growth, and Risk of Adverse Birth Outcomes Archives of General Psychiatry DOI: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.2333