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No Sign That Antidepressants in Pregnancy Harm Kids' Brains: Study

HealthDay News
by -- Robert Preidt
Updated: Jul 12th 2017

new article illustration

WEDNESDAY, July 12, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- For women battling depression, the decision over whether or not to continue their antidepressant during a pregnancy can be a difficult one.

Now, reassuring news: A new study finds little risk of intellectual disability in children whose mothers take these pills while pregnant.

The data "provides more information for clinicians to evaluate the risks in pregnant women taking antidepressants," said study co-author Abraham Reichenberg. He is a professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City.

The new findings "should be factored into other considerations, such as the increased risk for the mother if [she is] not medicated, the drug's side effects, and other medical conditions," Reichenberg explained in a hospital news release.

One specialist in the developing brain stressed that going without a needed antidepressant during pregnancy can come with its own risks.

"It is imperative that women who are living with depression remain appropriately and effectively treated during pregnancy," said Dr. Ruth Milanaik, who reviewed the new findings. She directs the Neonatal Neurodevelopmental Follow-Up Program at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

Milanaik called the new study "methodologically sound," and said that "as society increases awareness and acceptance of mental health issues such as depression, studies such as this will help to elucidate which medications and treatments will be both effective for the mother and safe for the infant."

In their research, the Mount Sinai team tracked data on more than 179,000 children born in Sweden in 2006 and 2007, including about 4,000 whose mothers took antidepressants during pregnancy.

Intellectual disability was diagnosed in 0.9 percent of children whose mothers took antidepressants during pregnancy and in 0.5 percent of children not exposed to antidepressants in the womb -- not a significant difference.

The researchers defined intellectual disability as "major limitations in both intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior."

After adjusting for other factors, the study authors concluded that the risk of intellectual disability among children whose mothers take antidepressants during pregnancy is not statistically significant and is likely due to other factors, such as parental age and the parents' psychiatric history.

Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein is president of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation in New York City. After reviewing the findings he said that "untreated depression has serious negative consequences, so this study is a valuable look at issues related to safety for pregnant women. A better understanding of risks and benefits helps physicians guide patients in their treatment decisions."

The study was published online July 12 in JAMA Psychiatry.

More information

The March of Dimes has more on depression during pregnancy.