If you're taking antidepressants and you're expecting—or expecting to be expecting—you're definitely going to want to read this.
Much research has been published linking some selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (known as SSRIs for short, drugs used to treat depression and other mental health conditions) to birth defects, but one new study both challenges some previously reported links between certain antidepressants used in pregnancy and birth defects, and also confirms some others.
In the Centers for Disease Control report, published in The BMJ, researchers generated new data, as well as incorporated results from past studies. They found that some birth defects occur much more frequently—about two or three times more—among babies whose moms took SSRIs like fluoxetine and paroxetine. And they found the higher link to birth defects when the drugs were used early in the moms' pregnancies. However, researchers did not confirm links between the SSRI sertraline and any of the birth defects observed in previous studies.
Although there has been much past research in this area, March of Dimes chief medical officer Edward R.B. McCabe told Parents.com that this study can be regarded as definitive.
"This was a large population-based study with rigorous statistical analyses and the results are definitive," he said. "The study found that some antidepressants are safer than others, and safer than previous studies indicated."
He clarified that the overall risk is regarded as low, but certain SSRI meds, like fluoxetine and paroxetine, early in pregnancy "continue to raise concerns" because of the elevated link. However, another SSRI, like sertraline, "may be one of the better choices for pregnant women because researchers didn't see links to birth defects."
So what do women need to know—and do—right now, given the new research? Well, first of all, no one should abruptly go off meds without medical care and consultation.
"A pregnant woman should be reassured that she can choose a safe drug to treat her depression and not have to go off her medication because she is afraid her baby may develop a birth defect," McCabe said. "Not treating depression can be unhealthy for both the mom and her baby. It can cause stress, and stress during pregnancy is associated with early births and low-birthweight babies."
As with any medical decision a woman makes while pregnant, she should consult with her doctors and make a plan. "Women should talk to their physicians about switching to a safer drug if they already are taking a drug with a higher risk of birth defects," he said.
For more info, check out the CDC's recommendations, as well as the March of Dimes' background on depression and pregnancy.
Sign up for our pregnancy newsletters to keep up with the latest pregnancy news.