Researchers found that women who started taking SSRIs during their second or third trimester were five times more likely to have preterm births than women who started taking SSRIs prior to becoming pregnant, during the first trimester or not at all.
Published in December in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, the study involved 2,793 pregnant women, 11 percent of whom used a psychiatric medication during their pregnancy. Of those on a psychiatric medication, 138 took SSRIs such as Zoloft, Paxil and Prozac. Eight-five women took benzodiazepines, a type of anti-anxiety drug, such as Ativan and Xanax.
Nine percent of women who were not taking any medication experienced a pre-term birth, compared with 14 percent of women who were on SSRIs. Of the 21 women who started SSRIs after their first trimester, 16 had a premature delivery.
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Almost half the women who took a benzodiazepine gave birth prematurely, regardless of when they started the medication. Their babies were more likely to have issues such as respiratory distress syndrome, low birth weight and a low Apgar score.
Researchers noted that larger, well-conducted studies should be carried out to confirm the results of this study, which was limited by a relatively small sample size and a lack of information regarding doses and duration of medication use.
The risks associated with taking medication during pregnancy must be weighed against the risks of untreated depression or anxiety, which can also cause pregnancy complications.