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Untreated depression and antidepressants may both affect unborn child

By Linda Searing,

THE QUESTION How might an unborn child’s development be affected if the mother takes antidepressants during pregnancy?

THIS STUDY involved 7,696 pregnant women, most of them 27 to 30 years old. Of the 669 women in the group who had symptoms of depression, 570 women took no antidepressants, and 99 took selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) antidepressants. During pregnancy, those in the SSRI group had fewer depressive symptoms than the other 570 women. All participants in the study had periodic sonograms to measure fetal growth, including body weight and head size, which is considered an indicator of brain development. Among the women with untreated depression, fetal growth overall was slower compared with the fetuses of all other study participants. Among women who took SSRIs, fetal weight gain was not different but head sizes were the smallest, on average; their babies also were twice as likely to be born prematurely. No link was found between symptoms of depression and below-normal birth weight.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Pregnant women with depression. Among other concerns, women and their doctors have to balance the risks of not treating depression during pregnancy against possible side effects from the drugs.

CAVEATS Some of the data on SSRI use and depression symptoms came from the women’s responses on questionnaires. No antidepressants other than SSRIs were evaluated. Women taking SSRIs might have had more severe depression initially, which could have affected the results.

FIND THIS STUDY March 5 online issue of Archives of General Psychiatry (www.archgenpsychiatry.com).

LEARN MORE ABOUT women and depression at www.
nimh.nih.gov/health
(click “publications,” then “women’s mental health”). For information about antidepressants, go to effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov (search for “antidepressants”).

— Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.

© The Washington Post Company