Do Antidepressants Affect Fetal Development?

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Apr 11, 2018

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With increased awareness about postpartum and prepartum depression, more women are seeking treatment for these conditions during pregnancy. But what we don’t quite know yet is how the use of antidepressants may impact fetal development. Earlier studies suggested any effect was negligible, but a new study by Jiook Cha, PhD, of Columbia University in the US, suggests there may be bigger impact than scientists previously believed, though we don’t yet know exactly what it is.

The team studied 98 infant-mother pairs over the course of five years. They compared 16 infants who had in-utero exposure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), a common antidepressant; 21 infants exposed in-utero to untreated maternal depression; and 61 other healthy infants without those exposures. The researchers were looking specifically at gray matter volume and white matter structural connectivity via brain imaging.

The findings suggest SSRI use by pregnant women may be associated with changes in fetal brain development, particularly in regions of the brain related to emotional processing. However, the study falls short of identifying exactly what those changes are or how significant they might be. This requires further study.

The animal studies that have been done on this suggest that perinatal SSRI exposure can alter brain circuitry and produce anxiety and depressive-like behaviors after adolescence. Human babies are different, however, and more human studies will need to be done to confirm whether the same is true for babies exposed to SSRI in utero.

One thing that is certainly true, however, is that women who suffer from mental health issues during and after pregnancy recover faster if they seek treatment. Which means that for the meantime, the best thing an expecting or new mother can do for her baby is to get the mental health help she needs.

 

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Written By The Swaddle Team

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