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Infants and Antidepressant Withdrawal

1 in 3 Newborns Exhibited Symptoms From SSRIs
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 6, 2006 -- There is growing evidence that babies born to mothers who take antidepressants during pregnancy often experience symptoms of drug withdrawal shortly after birth.

In a new study from Israel, about one out of three newborn infants exposed to antidepressants in the womb showed signs of neonatal drug withdrawal, which included high-pitched crying, tremors, and disturbed sleep.

Researchers concluded that expectant moms who take selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants and their doctors should be warned about the potential risk.

"Because maternal depression during pregnancy also entails a risk to the newborn, the risk-benefit ratio of continuing SSRI treatment should be assessed," Rachel Levinson-Castiel, MD, and colleagues wrote.

Confusing Picture

The report comes less than a week after the publication of a major study finding that pregnant women who stop taking antidepressants run a high risk of relapsing into depression.

And it comes just months after the FDA warned that a widely prescribed SSRI may be associated with an increased risk of birth defects in babies born to mothers who take the drug in their first trimester.

The mixed messages from the research have left many pregnant women who suffer from depression wondering what to do.

Diana Dell, MD, who is both an ob-gyn and a psychiatrist, says it is increasingly clear that abruptly stopping depression treatment carries significant risks for both mother and baby.

Dell is an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and psychiatry at Duke University in Durham, N.C.

"Moms need to be well during pregnancy, and moderate to severe depression certainly has an impact on a developing fetus," she tells WebMD. "We also know that a woman's chance of being hospitalized for psychiatric reasons is greater during the first four weeks after giving birth than at any other time in her life."

'Vulnerable Period'

The Israeli study involved 60 newborns whose mothers took SSRI antidepressants throughout their pregnancies up until the time they delivered. The infants were assessed for signs of withdrawal during the first two hours after birth, and then again at regular intervals if they exhibited withdrawal symptoms.

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