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Antidepressants May Impact Infant Development

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DenmarkA new study suggests that babies who are exposed to antidepressants prior to birth are slower to reach certain developmental milestones. The study will likely add to the growing controversy about whether or not SSRI antidepressants are safe for pregnant women to use.

According to healthfinder.gov on 2/23/10, the study involved more than 81,000 babies born in Denmark between 1996 and 2002. Of those, 415 were exposed to antidepressants prior to birth, and 489 were born to mothers who reported that they were depressed but did not take antidepressants. The rest of the babies were born to mothers who reported no depression or antidepressant use. Of those women who were prescribed antidepressants, the majority took selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft and Celexa.

Researchers found that infants who were exposed to antidepressants in the second or third trimester were on average 16 days slower to sit up without support and started walking almost a month later than babies who were not exposed to antidepressants. At 19 months there was no difference in motor skills between the two groups, but those who were exposed to antidepressants had more difficulty occupying themselves for more than 15 minutes at a time. The differences were most pronounced with boys.

The delays were still within normal developmental timelines and researchers say they are not sure if the delays are permanent or temporary, or even whether they are clinically significant.

This study, published in the March issue of Pediatrics, is the first to look at the impact of antidepressants on development after birth. Previous studies focused largely on how antidepressants impact fetal development.

Despite these findings, women are urged not to discontinue use of antidepressants before speaking to their doctors. Severe, untreated depression can pose a risk to both mother and baby. Experts note that people with untreated depression are more likely to engage in risky behavior such as drinking, smoking and using recreational drugs. Furthermore, untreated depression has been linked to pre-term delivery.

According to guidelines released by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), women with severe depression should not stop taking antidepressants if they are thinking of becoming pregnant. Women with mild depression can consider gradually reducing their doses but should do so under the supervision of a doctor.

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