A recent medical study has linked antidepressants during pregnancy, especially SSRI antidepressants, and autistic children. When the drug is taken in later pregnancy the risks are the greatest. This can leave many physicians and mental health professionals in a bind though, and the findings may cause some pregnant women to stop taking medication that helps control their depression. According to the study report by University of Montreal researchers, and authored by lead researcher Anick Beard, “Use of antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, during the second and/or third trimester increases the risk of autism spectrum disease in children, even after considering maternal depression.” The study involved over 145,000 children, and 4,700 of the study participants were exposed to antidepressant medication in the womb. Out of the 4,700 children identified only around 1%, or 31 children, were eventually diagnosed as having autism. A careful analysis identified only SSRI drugs. Beard explained “Other classes of antidepressants were not statistically significantly associated with an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder.”
University of Rochester in New York Obstetrics and Gynecology department chair Dr. Eva Pressman, who was not involved in the study on antidepressants during pregnancy and autistic children, has more question than she does answers after going over the study. Pressman told reporters that “If there is an effect that SSRIs have on autism, I think it is not a very large effect. If the patient can be safely managed without medication, that’s always in their interest. In some patients, the depression is clearly more dangerous than the medication.” In the end physicians and mental health professionals will have to weigh the risks versus the benefits in each patient to determine whether antidepressants, and especially SSRI drugs, are the right treatment choice on a case by case basis.