March 13, 2013 -- Babies of moms who take antidepressants have a slightly higher risk of being born preterm and other problems. But the risk to the mom and baby of stopping antidepressants may outweigh the risks of using them, new research suggests.
The research, an analysis of 23 studies, shows that being exposed to antidepressants while in the womb is linked to preterm delivery, shorter gestational age, and lower Apgar scores (a test used to check the health of the baby right after birth) compared with babies who were unexposed.
However, "group differences were small," the researchers write.
Compared with their healthy peers, moms who took antidepressants during pregnancy were also at risk for babies with lower birth weight.
The researchers note that significant links were found for all of these outcomes. But because the effects were so small, significance of these risks is "questionable."
The study is published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
"Untreated depression during pregnancy or post-partum has been associated with increased [harm and death] in the mother and her children," write the researchers.
"Despite this, there is evidence that depression is markedly undetected and undertreated during pregnancy."
The researchers examined 23 studies that looked at antidepressant treatments during pregnancy, including older antidepressants and SSRIs, which are more commonly used today.
The results show that infants who were exposed to antidepressants in the womb had a shorter gestational age (about three days shorter), had a lower Apgar score, and were more likely to undergo a preterm delivery than babies who were unexposed.
Nevertheless, "in light of established risks associated with untreated prenatal depression for both mother and infant, the clinical relevance of these increased risks should be interpreted with caution," write the researchers.
How Big a Risk?
"I think this was a very high-quality [study], and they took great care in accounting for a lot of different issues," says Katrina C. Johnson, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Emory University in Atlanta.