According to Medscape Today, the study demonstrated that fetuses exposed to both normal and high doses of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) experienced the disrupted emergence of non-REM sleep during the third trimester of pregnancy.
The study noted that this interruption was "characterized by continual bodily activity and, thus, poor inhibitory motor control during this sleep state near term," according to the news source.
Eduard J. Mulder and his colleagues from University Medical Center in Utrecht, the Netherlands, said in the study that while the importance of the discovery of this alteration during the third trimester has not been fully determined, it could help to predict sleep issues children experience later in life.
Tom Oberlander, from the Child and Family Research Institute at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada—a researcher who was not involved in the specific study—agreed with Mulder's assessment that it was too early to truly pinpoint the significance of the trial.
"This is one step in a long series of human studies to figure out what is happening at a neurobehavioral, biologic, and molecular level," with these medications, Oberlander told the news source. "At the macro level, it's important to recognize that [the] mother's mental health is really the critical issue here and, there are downstream effects of the mood disturbances themselves that need to be carefully considered."
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They found that fetuses that had been exposed to standard or high levels of SSRIs exhibited more motor activity during the beginning and the end of the second trimester than those who had not been exposed.
"Bodily activity at high rate during non-REM sleep in SSRI-exposed fetuses is an abnormal phenomenon," the researchers noted.
This is not the first time that SSRIs have been linked to fetal problems, as the medications have previously been associated with persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN). Such drugs include Lexapro, Celexa, Zoloft and Paxil, according to the Mayo Clinic.