Certain Antidepressants Linked to Birth Defects
Almost every medication during pregnancy comes with its own set of warnings, risks, and benefits.
Taking medications during pregnancy is an important cost/benefit analysis that involves weighing any potential (and sometimes unknown) risks to your baby against your own health, which can, in turn, also affect your baby's health because mom's health affects her baby's health, too.
There are very few medications that are considered 100% safe for women, and even a lot of commonly used drugs, such as Zofran for morning sickness, have risks that women aren't even always aware of.
Antidepressants especially are highly debated among the medical community for use during pregnancy.
On one hand, a woman who is suffering from depression and takes an antidepressant during pregnancy could be doing so for the sake of her life. And there are very serious medical risks to depression for both a mother and a baby, including premature labor and low birthweight, so depression needs to be treated.
However, if the depression is severe enough to be treated with medication, women and doctors need to also understand the risks of each drug and to try to choose the best medication for effectiveness that has the least amount of risk for the baby.
A new study in British Medical Journal took a look at some specific antidepressants from the SSRI category of drugs to test their effect on women and their babies. The drugs they looked at were:
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Escitalopram (Lexapro)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
The researchers looked at women who used these drugs in the month before and through the third month of pregnancy and concluded that “some birth defects occur 2 to 3.5 times more frequently among the infants of women treated with paroxetine or fluoxetine early in pregnancy.”
So what does this mean?
Obviously, the study has limitations — it only looked at women who used the drug during their first trimester or right before getting pregnant, and it is only an association, not a definitive cause. But the list of associated birth defects, including heart defects, abnormal brain formation, and the growth of the intestines outside of the body, are serious risks, so if you are suffering from depression, it's helpful to know what drugs may carry a lower risk of birth defects for your baby.
Choosing a lower-risk antidepressant could help women get the treatment for depression that they need and deserve all while ensuring that the risks to the developing fetus are minimized as well.
Did you take any antidepressants during your pregnancy?