Antidepressants Linked to Newborn Problems
SSRI Use During Pregnancy Associated With Premature Birth, Other Health Problems for Babies
WebMD News Archive
The study did not find significant differences between birth weight or head
circumference between infants in any of the three groups.
Charles Lockwood, MD, chairman of the department of obstetrics, gynecology
and reproductive sciences at Yale University, says that because women who are
taking antidepressants are more likely to be sicker than those who do not --
and thus more likely to deliver prematurely as a result of the stress of their
mental illness -- it’s possible the results were slightly confounded by this
“It’s sort of like the chicken and egg problem,” says Lockwood, who
co-authored guidelines on the treatment for depression during pregnancy
published jointly this August by ACOG and the American Psychiatric Association.
“But the study still adds further weight to the possibility that the SSRIs
themselves may be related to prematurity,” he says. Lockwood was not involved
in the current study.
Treating Depression During Pregnancy an Ongoing Issue
The current study adds to the growing body of research devoted to helping
decide whether pregnant women should take antidepressants during their
Previous studies have shown that the drugs lead to higher rates of NICU
admissions because of withdrawal symptoms in newborns, and to higher rates of
pulmonary hypertension -- high blood pressure in the arteries that serve the
lungs. Last month,
another Danish study showed that women taking Celexa and Zoloft early in
pregnancy gave birth to babies with a slightly higher rate of a certain heart
Despite such problems, Lockwood warns of the dire potential outcomes of
avoiding medications in some women who suffer from depression. “We must always
be focused on the mother’s health because the greatest risk of under-treating a
depressed mother is suicide -- and that’s a really bad risk for any fetus to
have,” he says.
Past studies have also shown higher rates of low birth weight and premature
delivery as additional risks of being depressed while pregnant.
Although the exact mechanism is unclear, some animal studies have suggested
that SSRIs might interfere with adequate blood flow to the uterus, thereby
Pregnancy itself could cause onset of new depression or an exacerbation of
pre-existing depression, says Lockwood. “Being pregnant can bring on a lot of
different stresses for a woman -- financial worries, physical distress from
feeling nauseous and exhausted -- it makes sense that there’s something about
pregnancy in its essence that can trigger depression,” he says. Some theories
suggest that fluctuations in certain hormone levels including progesterone and
corticotropin-releasing hormone could also be part of the problem.