The study was published October 31 in Human Reproduction and involved an analysis of data from previous research on the risks associated with the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) when used during pregnancy. Among the potential side effects researchers noted were an increased risk of miscarriage, birth defects, preterm birth, persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn and newborn behavioral syndrome.
According to researchers, up to 13.4 percent of women take an antidepressant at some point during their pregnancy, many of those taking an SSRI. The rationale for taking an antidepressant during pregnancy is that the risk of untreated depression is greater—and more harmful—than the risks associated with the antidepressant. Researchers note, however, that studies suggest serious side effects can occur when infants are exposed to antidepressants prior to birth.
The study's authors write that preterm birth is among the most important obstetrical concern because delivery before 37 weeks is associated with serious infant health problems and death. Studies have examined preterm birth rates in women who took antidepressants during pregnancy. "The overwhelming majority of those studies have found increased rates of preterm birth in the antidepressant exposed group," researchers wrote. "In most of these studies the results have been statistically significant."
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"There is little evidence of benefit from the antidepressants prescribed for the majority of women of childbearing age—and there is ample evidence of risk," researchers concluded. "The best available evidence suggests that antidepressants do not provide clinically meaningful benefit for most women with depression." They went on to note that antidepressants have been shown to increased pregnancy complications.
For women of childbearing age who are deciding whether or not to take an antidepressant while pregnant, this study offers further insight and analysis into the risks associated with taking an SSRI such as Zoloft while pregnant.