“The big question is what are the long-term ramifications for treating developing embryos and fetuses with these medications,” says Urato. “The animal data shows that if you expose developing mammals to these drugs during development you get changes in their brain and changes in their behaviour that mimic autism.
“There are several studies showing that there are changes in the behaviour of children that are exposed to these drugs in utero” says Urato. “There are now two studies showing increased rates of autism, and the autism increases are pretty dramatic. They show tripling of rates of autism in babies that are exposed to these drugs in utero.”
Urato’s comments are based on his extensive review of the scientific data currently available regarding the use of antidepressants by pregnant women. His research was published online in October 2012 in the Journal of Human Reproduction.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, there has been a 400 percent increase in the use of antidepressants in the US alone. An estimated 13.4 percent of all pregnant women are prescribed an antidepressant during pregnancy.
“We have been treating women with these drugs for 25 years and the evidence is becoming clearer that there are significant risks,” he says. “And merging from the scientific evidence shows increased risk - increased risk of birth defects, increased miscarriage, preterm birth, and increased risks to the baby like pulmonary hypertension in the newborn and behaviour syndromes,” says Urato.
Urato compares the current SSRI risk to newborns to a previous “pregnancy epidemic.” In the 1950s and 60s, millions of women were prescribed DES to prevent miscarriages and preterm births. It was later discovered that the so-called DES children had dramatically increased risks of cancer. “We have a generation of women using antidepressants. We need to learn from history,” says Urato.
No Benefits for Baby or Mother
Women are often prescribed antidepressants on the basis that they will improve the outcome of their pregnancy. Unfortunately, Urato says, that is simply not the case.
“When you compare depressed women not on antidepressants and depressed women on antidepressants, you see pregnancy complications in the group of women on the antidepressants,” he says. “That’s where you have more preterm births, more miscarriages, more preeclampsia, more complications.”
The idea that a pill can improve a mother’s mental health and improve the outcome for her baby is “an attractive idea,” says Urato.
“It sells well and there are many opinion leaders out there selling that message to the public,” says Urato. “But it is important to get the science to the public about what is actually happening and that information doesn’t support that model.”
“This is not a point of opinion - this is a point of fact,” says Urato. “The actual scientific evidence is not showing obstetrical or pregnancy benefits in the group of women being treated with antidepressants. They are showing worse outcomes time and time again.”