A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry (3/5/12) examined the effects of maternal SSRI use while pregnant on the fetus and on birth outcomes. In undertaking the study, researchers noted, "Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are frequently prescribed to pregnant women, but knowledge about their unintended effects on child health is scarce."
To conduct the study, researchers examined 7,696 pregnant women, most of whom were between 27 and 30 years of age. Of the 669 women who showed symptoms of depression, 99 took an SSRI antidepressant while the other 570 did not take any antidepressant. All women included in the study underwent sonograms to measure the growth of the fetus, including the weight and head size.
Researchers found that mothers who used SSRI medications while pregnant had fewer depressive symptoms than women with untreated depression, but also had reduced fetal head growth and a higher risk of preterm birth. Women who had untreated depression while pregnant had slower rates of fetal body and head growth than women with no depressive symptoms. Researchers concluded that further studies should be conducted to confirm the implications of their findings.
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Other infant side effects reportedly linked to SSRI medications include an increased risk of autism, oral clefts and other birth defects. Women who are taking an antidepressant and are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant should not discontinue their medication without speaking to a medical professional.