Antidepressants During Pregnancy Linked to Lower Scores for Children on Standardized Tests: Study

Use of antidepressants during pregnancy may cause neurological development problems in children resulting in lower standardized testing scores

New research suggests that pregnancy side effects of a widely prescribed class of antidepressant medications, including Zoloft, Paxil and Celexa, may increase the risk of children experiencing learning disabilities, causing them to score lower on standardized tests.

In findings published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Danish researchers found that expecting mothers who used selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) during their pregnancy birthed children who scored significantly lower in mathematics during primary and secondary education standardized testing.

The study involved data collected from the Danish National Test Program between 2010 and 2018, which included primary and lower secondary school test scores in language and mathematics from children 7-17 years of age.

Researchers then reviewed the prescriptions filled by the student’s mothers for antidepressants during pregnancy, using the Danish Prescription Register to properly categorize the two groups according to maternal antidepressant use.

The study included 575,369 participants, of which 10,198 were born to mothers filling antidepressant prescriptions during pregnancy. Test scores in language and mathematics among the two groups were then compared to determine whether there were any identifiable neurodevelopmental consequences of prenatal exposure to antidepressants.

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According to the findings, children whose mothers used prescriptions antidepressants during pregnancy had an average of 52.1% score in mathematics in comparison to an average score of 57.4% for children whose mothers did not fill prescriptions for antidepressants during pregnancy.

The study also found children who were exposed to antidepressants in utero accounted for 28.6% of math test scores in the below-average category compared to 21.8% of children without exposure.

Researchers stated that while no significant difference in language scores were identified, the difference in mathematics scores were statistically significant, but small.

“The magnitude of the difference in the mathematics test score was small and of uncertain clinical importance, and the findings must be weighed against the benefits of treating maternal depression during pregnancy,” the researchers concluded.

Antidepressant Pregnancy Concerns

The risks of using antidepressants during pregnancy have been linked to preterm delivery, heart complications, gestational diabetes and the development of psychiatric disorders, among other potential long term side effects from SSRIs such as Zoloft, Paxil and Celexa.

In July 2020, the medical journal Pediatrics published a study finding the use of antidepressants during pregnancy increased preterm delivery risks for expecting mothers. The study further warned antidepressants may increase the risk of major heart malformations and respiratory distress, even when the medications are taken in moderate sustained levels.

The researchers stated there was a dose-dependent relationship, indicating the more antidepressants a woman takes during pregnancy the higher the risk the newborn will suffer from respiratory distress and other serious complications.

Last year in May 2020, Pediatrics published a separate antidepressant side effects study finding 20% of children exposed to two types of antidepressants during pregnancy faced an increased risk of psychiatric disorders, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, and mood disorders.

In addition to autism, research has suggested antidepressants may cause a risk of serious health problems for children exposed to the medication before birth, including septal heart defects, skull malformations, neural tube defects, abdominal defects, spina bifida and other serious injuries.

Antidepressants side effects risks have also been linked to a serious respiratory disorder, known as persistent pulmonary hypertension in newborns (PPHN), which may cause insufficient blood flow to the lungs, leading to serious and potentially life-threatening problems.

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