Side effects of certain antidepressants when taken during pregnancy may increase the risk of the baby being born with impaired cognition and language, according to the findings of new research.
In a study published in the May 2020 issue of the medical journal Pediatrics, Canadian researchers indicate that roughly 20% of children exposed to two types of antidepressants during pregnancy later experienced deficits in two or more developmental areas.
Researchers examined data from a population-based cohort study involving 266,479 mother-child pairings, involving births in Manitoba, Canada from 1996 to 2014.
Nearly 14,000 women were selected who had a mood or anxiety disorder between 90 days before conception. Of those, more than 2,000 women took either selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) or serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI), during pregnancy. Another 10,000 women who did not take SSRI or SNRI antidepressants were used as controls.
A total of 3,000 children were included in the study who met criteria for exposure and were assessed with an Early Development Instrument (EDI). Children who scored low in an area are considered developmentally vulnerable and have increased risk of deficits in language and cognition.
According to the findings, more than 20% of children exposed to an SSRI or SNRI antidepressant in utero were more likely to score low in two or more developmental areas, compared to only 16% of children in the unexposed group. Children in the exposed group also had a significantly higher risk of scoring low on language and cognition areas of development.
Prior research has shown children exposed to SSRIs during pregnancy have an increased risk of suffering anxiety later in life. It may also expose them to increased risk of psychiatric disorders, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, and mood disorders.
Roughly 10% of all women are prescribed antidepressants during pregnancy with SSRIs and SNRIs being the most commonly prescribed antidepressants.
Despite the widespread use of SSRIs and SNRIs in pregnancy there is little research looking at the long-term effects on the brain development of the child, according to the researchers.
“Exposure to SSRIs or SNRIs during pregnancy was linked with an increased risk of developmental vulnerability and an increased risk of deficits in language and or cognition,” the researchers determined. “Replication of results is necessary before clinical implications can be reached.”
However, untreated depression during pregnancy can also pose harms to both mother and the developing baby. Depressed mothers are less likely to get proper prenatal care and may not get adequate nutrition or enough sleep. They are also at risk for postpartum depression and increased risk of alcohol substance abuse.