SSRI Antidepressants in Pregnancy May Influence Fetal Head Growth

Yet another study has shown that the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants may impact a developing fetus if the drugs are taken by an expectant mother during her pregnancy. The study, which was published in the March 5 online edition of the Archives of General Psychiatry, found that babies exposed to SSRI antidepressants in utero are more likely to exhibit reduced head growth at birth. Use of SSRI antidepressants also appeared to be associated with a higher risk of preterm birth.

SSRI antidepressants include drugs sold under the names Paxil, Prozac, Celexa, Lexapro, and Zoloft. A growing body of research has linked these medications to birth defects when they are used by pregnant women, especially in the early months of pregnancy when many women don’t realize they are pregnant. Most recently, a study published earlier this year by researchers at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute found that these popular antidepressant drugs cause a two-fold increased risk of neonatal pulmonary hypertension (PPHN) in newborns if they are taken by the baby’s mother during her pregnancy.

This new study was conducted by researchers at Sophia Children’s Hospital and Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. According to a report from HealthDay News, the study drew on birth outcomes in nearly 7,700 pregnant women. Of these, 91 percent had no or very mild symptoms of depression, about 7 percent had symptoms of depression but did not take SSRIs, and just over 1 percent were depressed and used SSRI antidepressants during pregnancy.

According to HealthDay News, children in the study born to depressed women, whether they were treated with SSRIs or not, had smaller head circumference at growth. However, those whose mothers took SSRI antidepressants had less head-circumference growth than children of depressed mothers not treated with SSRIs. Children born to women whose depression was not treated with SSRIs also had smaller bodies, while the SSRI group did not.

It is thought that fetal head size correlates to brain growth. According to HealthDay News, the study authors noted that small head size in infants from birth to 4 weeks of age may be predictive of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders.

The same study also found that children of mothers who used SSRIs were twice as likely to be born preterm. Children of depressed mothers who did not use SSRIs were born slightly later than usual, by about 1 day, according to HealthDay News.

Michael O’Hara, a professor of psychology at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, told HealthDay News that the findings of this study add to the growing concerns about SSRIs in pregnancy. He pointed out that psychological treatments exist for depression, including interpersonal psychotherapy or behavioral therapy that can be used during pregnancy, or earlier for women who plan their pregnancies.

“These psychological treatments allow a woman to avoid antidepressant medication, but at the same time receive very good treatment for their depression,” O’Hara told HealthDay News.

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