Antidepressants During Pregnancy Linked To Increased Autism Risk

A new study has found a high correlation between women who took antidepressants during their pregnancies and high rates of autism in their sons.

And while pregnancy is a time to be cautious about taking any medication, depression and other mood disorders cause a unique dilemma; on one hand, taking antidepressants during pregnancy may be pose a threat to the still-developing baby, but on the other hand, untreated depression carries its own risks and dangers for both mother and baby. 

There have been many studies in the past that have looked at the possible effects of antidepressants on a pregnant mother and her baby. Possible risks include premature labor, a slight risk of cardiac abnormalities, and respiratory problems at birth for the baby, but the latest study is one of the first to look specifically at the risk of autism in a pregnant woman's child. 

{ MORE: What You Need to Know About Pregnancy and PTSD }

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Image via Flickr/ Meagan

The study, which appeared in the May issue of Pediatrics, found that, overall, children who followed typical development had the lowest exposure to antidepressants during their mother's pregnancy, but did not vary that significantly from children who showed autism and developmental delays. 

When researchers looked a little more closely, however, they found that boys showed a very significant difference. 

Boys who had been exposed to antidepressants (like Zoloft and Prozac) during their mother's pregnancies were three times more likely to also have an autism spectrum disorder. 

{ MORE: You Can Develop PTSD from a Traumatic Pregnancy  }

The link appeared to be strongest in boys who were exposed to the medication during the first trimester, and there was also a high correlation between third trimester exposure, which also was linked to developmental delays. The study noted, however, that “findings were similar among mothers with an anxiety or mood disorder history.”

So what does this mean?

Unfortunately, it's not exactly clear. The problem with accurately linking findings like this specifically to antidepressants is that some of the symptoms of untreated depression itself can cause side effects in the baby, so it's unclear if it's the depression that's connected to the autism or the medication. And as is important to remember with any study that finds a link, a correlation is not the same as a cause and effect, simply because there are so many other factors at play that researchers may not even be aware of, especially with pregnancy. 

The study itself states that findings continue to be “inconclusive,” and further testing is necessary, although it does appear that there may be a slight risk in exposure to antidepressants and susceptibility to autism and developmental delays. 

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“Because maternal depression itself carries risks for the fetus, the benefits of prenatal SSRI use should be carefully weighed against potential harms,” researchers concluded. 

Did you experience depression during your pregnancy? Do you feel medications can be helpful for some women experiencing pregnancy depression? 

What do you think?

Antidepressants During Pregnancy Linked To Increased Autism Risk

Chaunie Brusie is a writer, mom of four, and founder of The Stay Strong Mom, a community + gift box service for moms after loss. ... More

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