Exposure to Antidepressants During Pregnancy Linked to Risk of Psychiatric Disorders for Children: Study

When antidepressants are used during pregnancy, it may increase the baby’s risk of being diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder later in life, according to the findings of new research. 

In a study published in the medical journal The BMJ on September 6, Danish researchers found that exposure to antidepressants before birth may be linked to the development of psychiatric disorders, raising further concerns about the potential pregnancy side effects of antidepressants.

Researchers analyzed data from Danish national registries, including more than 905,000 births from 1998 to 2012 in Denmark. They followed the children for up to 16.5 years, categorizing the children into four groups according to maternal antidepressant use within 2 years before and during pregnancy. The groups included mothers who never used antidepressants, those who used it before pregnancy but not during pregnancy, those who used it before and during pregnancy, and mother’s who were new users and had only used it during pregnancy.

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More than 32,000 children were diagnosed with psychiatric disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, anxiety, autism spectrum disorder, mood disorders, somataform disorders, and behavioral and emotional disorders.

Researchers concluded that women who took antidepressants were twice as likely, on average, to have a child diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder by the age of 16. Most children were diagnosed by the age of eight.

Women who newly began using antidepressants had a 14.5% increased risk of having a child with a psychiatric disorder, and those who used the drugs before and during pregnancy had a 13.6% risk. Women who used the drugs, but stopped during pregnancy, had an 11.5% risk. Comparatively, women who had never used the drugs before or during pregnancy had an 8% risk of having a child diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder.

Researchers said the group that continued use of antidepressants had increased risk of psychiatric disorders compared to the discontinuation group. While they did factor in heritability of psychiatric disorders, they also indicated something else was clearly increasing the risk.

Study authors indicate more research is needed concerning various psychiatric disorders and antidepressant use to determine a definitive link.

Antidepressant Pregnancy Side Effects

Prior studies have warned of a link between prenatal antidepressant use and side effects for the unborn child, including language disorders, birth defects and other serious health concerns that raised questions about whether antidepressants are safe during pregnancy.

In a recent Finnish study, pregnant women who took selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) were 40% more likely to give birth to a child who is later diagnosed with dyslexia and other language disorders.

Other studies have focused on the increased risk of autism after prenatal antidepressant use. However, a contradictory study published in 2017 indicated no increased risk of autism after antidepressant use during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Despite the limited research concerning antidepressants and psychiatric disorders in children, other studies have found links between the drugs and increased risk of birth defects, as well as increased risk of infant admission to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at brith.

Researchers warn that pregnant women should not stop using their medication until they speak to their doctor. One study indicated the benefits of SSRI treatment during pregnancy outweighed the risks, with that study’s authors indicating that the benefits of antidepressants are especially important among women with certain psychiatric disorders that may not be treated by other means.

Antidepressants have been increasingly used during pregnancy for the past few decades. Researchers indicated approximately 2% to 8% of pregnant women are taking antidepressants. SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed.

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