As a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), Lexapro is often included in discussion of SSRI antidepressant birth defects. Such side effects reportedly include an increased risk of persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn and other congenital birth defects. But study findings often contradict each other, with some finding an increased risk of birth defects in infants exposed to Lexapro prior to birth and others finding no such risk. Still others find no increased risk of specific congenital birth defects, but do find an increased risk of other birth defects.
One such study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine (6/28/07), titled "Use of Selective Serotonin-Reuptake Inhibitors in Pregnancy and the Risk of Birth Defects" examined data from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study to determine whether there was an increased risk of selected birth defects in infants exposed to SSRI antidepressants.
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Meanwhile a more recent study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry suggested that the use of SSRIs during pregnancy was linked to an increased risk of having a child with autism. Researchers found that children exposed to SSRIs during the first trimester were almost four times more likely to develop an autism spectrum disorder, compared with children not exposed to an SSRI.
The flip side, however, is that untreated depression during pregnancy poses a risk to the mother and the child as well, which is why women and their doctors must discuss whether an SSRI antidepressant such as Lexapro is a suitable medication or if another option is preferable.