Antidepressants, Pregnancy, and Autism: Time to Worry?
Does antidepressant use during pregnancy lead to autism in the exposed children? This is a very important question, which new research is beginning to address—and the findings are concerning.
Prozac, the first of the SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants, was launched in 1987 and sales have risen since then. Women of childbearing age make up a large percentage of SSRI users. Estimates are that up to 13% of US pregnancies are exposed (or around 500,000 US pregnancies per year.) How the SSRIs affect pregnancy has been an area of increasing concern. Current evidence suggests that antidepressant use during pregnancy is associated with miscarriage, birth defects, preterm birth, and newborn behavioral syndrome along with other pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia and low birth weight. The SSRIs appear to be associated with pregnancy complications, but a major area of concern is what the effects are on the developing brain of embryos and fetuses exposed to these drugs. Available scientific data from animal and human studies raise serious concerns that exposure to SSRIs during pregnancy damages the developing brain and may cause neurodevelopmental abnormalities—including autism.