The study, which examined the medical records of close to 39,000 Dutch children, was published on August 14 in BJOG, a British obstetrics journal. Researchers found that babies who were exposed to SSRIs and other antidepressants in utero visited doctors more often than babies not exposed to the drugs. Those who were exposed to antidepressants also had higher rates of congenital heart defects, respiratory problems and digestive problems.
These risks were also elevated in babies whose mothers took antidepressants but stopped their medication prior to becoming pregnant.
Of the 38,602 women who participated in the study, 197 took antidepressants during the entirety of their pregnancy. Meanwhile, 820 women stopped taking antidepressants prior to becoming pregnant, and 543 used the antidepressants on and off during pregnancy. Seventy-one percent of the women who used antidepressants during the pregnancy were taking an SSRI.
Of the babies who were exposed to an antidepressant consistently throughout the pregnancy, three required major heart surgery during their first year of life. What's more, children whose mothers used antidepressants before and/or during pregnancy were more likely to suffer respiratory or intestinal problems and were more frequently put on antibiotics.
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"Children whose mothers used antidepressants throughout pregnancy have more frequently a heart disease or motor function problems requiring therapeutic interventions compared to non-exposed children," researchers concluded. "These effects may be drug-induced and therefore prenatal screening on congenital heart defects is recommended."
Researchers noted that there is a chance that the babies' health issues resulted from the mothers' depression itself and not the antidepressants used to treat the depression. They concluded that further research should be done to determine whether the birth defects are the result of exposure to the drug or to the mothers' depression.