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Antidepressant Use During Pregnancy Increases Risk of Infant Admission to NICU: Study

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The findings of a new study suggest that women who use certain types of antidepressants during pregnancy may be more likely to give birth to a child that spends time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) due to illness. 

Researchers from Sweden found that women who used a class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are 50% more likely to have a child that requires NICU admission, often for respiratory and central nervous system problems. The findings were published in the October issue of the medical journal Pediatrics.

SSRI antidepressants are some of the most widely used drugs in the United States, and are prescribed to up to 10.2% of pregnant women. However, the side effects of SSRIs, which include blockbuster medications like Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, Celexa, Lexapro and others, have previously been linked to an increased risk of birth defects, miscarriage, autism, and other problems when used during pregnancy.

Researchers in the latest study looked at data on 741,040 children born between July 1, 2006 and December 31, 2012 in Sweden. They found that 17,736 were born to mothers who used SSRIs during pregnancy, and compared those children to the children of women who did not use the drugs.

According to the findings, 13.7% of infants born to mothers who used SSRIs were admitted to a NICU, compared to only 8.2% among the general population. Rates were higher, 16.5% among women who used SSRIs during late pregnancy.

The most common problems were respiratory and central nervous system disorders, as well as hypoglycemia. In addition, those born to mothers who used SSRIs late in pregnancy had a higher risk of persistent pulmonary hypertension.

“Maternal use of antidepressants during pregnancy was associated with increased neonatal morbidity and a higher rate of admissions to the NICU,” the researchers concluded. “The absolute risk for severe disease was low, however.”

Many popular antidepressants have been linked to 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.

Recent studies have also found that antidepressant use in pregnancy may increase the risk of seizure problems and delay of infant development milestones, such as sitting and walking are affected by antidepressant use during pregnancy.

This is also not the first time SSRIs have been linked to persistant pulmonary hypertension, a serious respiratory disorder. Others have also linked some antidepressants to a condition 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.

In recent years, a growing number of Zoloft lawsuits and Paxil lawsuits have been filed in courts throughout the United States on behalf of children born with defects and malformations after exposure to the medication during pregnancy. The complaints allege that the manufacturers of the medications failed to adequately research the risks associated with use of the antidepressant in pregnancy, or provide proper warnings to women about the risk of becoming pregnant while using the medication.

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