New study looks at link between antidepressants and birth defects

pregnant woman with MDThe use of certain antidepressants during pregnancy is associated with a higher risk of birth defects, according to a new study. But other antidepressants do not carry the same risk.

The study looked at a specific group of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs are medications used to treat depression and other mental health conditions. Previous studies gave conflicting evidence about potential links between the use of SSRIs during pregnancy and certain birth defects.

In this study, researchers from the CDC analyzed data from 17,952 mothers of infants with birth defects and 9,857 mothers of infants without birth defects, born between 1997 and 2009.

The researchers found that some birth defects occur about two or three times more frequently among babies born to women who took certain SSRI medications, like Prozac (fluoxetine) and Paxil (paroxetine) early in pregnancy. It is important to note that the actual risk for a birth defect among babies born to women taking Prozac or Paxil is still very low. For example, the risks for a specific heart defect could increase from 10 per 10,000 births to about 24 per 10,000 births among babies of women who are treated with Paxil early in pregnancy. Since these specific types of birth defects are rare, even doubling the risk still results in a low overall chance.

Researchers did not find a link between birth defects and other SSRIs such as Zoloft (sertraline).

“A pregnant woman should be reassured that she can choose a safe drug to treat her depression and not have to go off her medication because she is afraid her baby may develop a birth defect,” Dr. Edward McCabe, Chief Medical Officer of the March of Dimes said. “Not treating depression can be unhealthy for both the mom and her baby. It can cause stress, and stress during pregnancy is associated with early births and low-birthweight babies.”

If you are currently taking an antidepressant and are concerned, do not stop taking the medication until you talk to your health care provider. And if you are planning to become pregnant and are taking an antidepressant, schedule a preconception checkup and discuss what medications may be best for you.

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