Pregnant women using antidepressants more likely to have autistic kids – study

© Shannon Stapleton
Women who take antidepressants in later stages of pregnancy are more likely to give birth to a child with autism, according to a new study.

The new research, published in JAMA Pediatrics on Monday, found that women who took selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – the most common type of antidepressant, which includes Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft – during their second and third trimesters of pregnancy were about twice as likely to have a child diagnosed with autism than those who did not take them.

“Use of antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, during the second and/or third trimester increases the risk of autism spectrum disease in children, even after considering maternal depression,” Anick Berard of the University of Montreal and her colleagues wrote in their report.

The study looked at a database from a Canadian registry of 145,456 newborn children in Quebec, who were followed for an average of six years. The mothers had their medical records made available for a period starting a year before the birth of their child to allow researchers to see if they had taken SSRIs while pregnant.

Berard’s team found that 1,054 babies, or 0.7 percent of those studied, were later diagnosed with autism. Among the 2,532 babies whose mothers took an SSRI during her first trimester, 40 (1 percent) later received an autism diagnosis. Of the babies whose mothers used an SSRI during their second and/or third trimester of pregnancy, 31, or 1.2 percent, later received an autism diagnosis.

It has long been suspected that there is a link between a history of depression for a mother and the likelihood of autism in her children, and the team sought to narrow this correlation down.

When researchers compared the rates of autism for children born from women with a history of depression who did not take SSRIs to those who did, they found that the babies of SSRI-users were 75 percent more likely to be diagnosed.

While they studied all types of antidepressants, the team found that non-SSRI antidepressants were “not statistically significantly associated with an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder.”

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Doctors hope that these findings do not deter depressed women from taking SSRIs when they need them. Dr. Eva Pressman, who chairs the department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Rochester in New York, told NBC News that it’s a judgment call, but pregnant women are generally advised to take as little medication as possible.

“If the patient can be safely managed without medication, that’s always in their interest,” she said. “In some patients, the depression is clearly more dangerous than the medication.”