Antidepressants in Pregnancy May Affect Infants’ Development

Danish researchers recently announced that expectant mothers taking antidepressants may be inadvertently harming their developing babies, wrote Reuters. The antidepressants, when taken by pregnant women, could delay some “developmental milestones,” said the researchers.

“These drugs have an effect on the fetus’ brain,” said Dr. Lars Henning Pedersen, who worked on the study. The delays “may not matter for the child at all.” Pedersen, speaking to Reuters Health from Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, said in a telephone interview. Toddlers could place within normal markers, despite that there could exist one-month delays, said Reuters.

According to Reuters, about one in six expectant mothers in the United States, is diagnosed with a major depressive disorder, with the majority treated with <"">Prozac, <"">Zoloft, or <"">Paxil. Serotonin is the chemical in the brain that these medications target, and is linked to mood, attention, appetite, and brain development, noted Reuters.

Medications that increase serotonin levels help minimize the symptoms of depression; however, it remains unclear how developing human babies react to these medications and for how long the effects remain, said Reuters. Of note, in the lab, when antidepressants are given to pregnant rats, the “natural exploratory behavior” of the pups is restrained “well into adulthood,” said Reuters.

The study looked at a Danish database of over 100,000 pregnancies and was published in the journal Pediatrics. The team found about 400 women who had taken antidepressants when pregnant and 500 women who were diagnosed with depression but did not take medications for their depression, said Reuters. The team looked at the children born to each group and the milestones they achieved and when, such as expressing irritation, sitting with no support, and following sounds, added Reuters.

Differences were seen in gross movements at six months between babies exposed to antidepressants in the second or third trimesters, said Reuters. At toddler age, the children exposed to the medications took about 16 days longer to learn how to sit and about 29 additional days to walk, said Reuters. Although the differences all but disappeared by 19 months, children exposed to the drugs experienced challenges when self-playing, reported Reuters.

“This paper adds to a growing literature that prenatal antidepressant exposure is not risk free … developmental pediatrician Dr. Tim Oberlander of the University of British Columbia told Reuters Health. “There are going to be women who do need medication,” Dr. Oberlander added, quoted Reuters Health.

Reuters recently reported that antidepressant medication might interfere with breast cancer treatments. According to researchers in Canada, interference could cause patients to relapse and die, said Reuters. In October we wrote that women taking SSRIs during pregnancy may be likelier to experience premature birth and that babies born to women taking SSRIs were likelier to be admitted to an intensive care unit.

In November, we wrote about a Science Daily article that discussed the likelihood of premature child delivery tripling in pregnant women with a history of depression and who take certain psychiatric drugs. In that study, researchers found that the medication-depression combination, when present before or during pregnancy, was significantly associated to childbirth earlier than at 35 weeks’ gestation.

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