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Antidepressant use during pregnancy could pose risk to newborns

Women who take antidepressants while pregnant may want to reconsider doing so, according to a recent study reported in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. The study's findings linked antidepressant use to pregnancy complications including premature birth and smaller birth weight. Experts have stopped short of saying the medications themselves are dangerous, but say the safest option is to stop using antidepressants during pregnancy.

The risks of premature birth and low birth weight applied to women who used antidepressants in the second or third trimester. Of the nearly 229,000 infants born to women in the study, those whose mothers took the medications in the second trimester were generally born earlier. Expectant mothers who took two or three antidepressants in that period gave birth four or five days earlier than average.

Antidepressants classified as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which include the brand-name drugs Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa and Paxil, presented a higher risk of seizures in newborns, particularly when taken during the third trimester. The number of different prescriptions could also affect the risk level. Among women who took SSRIs during the third trimester, the risk of newborn seizures went up with the number of medications they took. One of the doctors involved in the study pointed out, however, that newborn seizures are uncommon and appear to cause no long-term damage.

Mothers can avoid the risk of premature birth or newborn seizures by not taking the antidepressants, but doing so creates a new risk, especially if a pregnant woman's depression is severe. So how should she decide whether to continue or avoid the medication? A consultation with her doctor is the best option, the study's authors say. Weighing the risks of going off the medication or staying on it can't be done on a large scale because everyone's risks are different. The number of medications and other individual factors, such as a mother's age, smoking during pregnancy and overall health can all affect the chances of pregnancy complications.

Because there's still so much doctors don't know about the direct effects of antidepressants, it pays to use them cautiously and under the guidance of a doctor. Although the increase in risk may be slight, an obstetrician may be able to help avoid that risk -- and a possible product liability lawsuit in the event of major complications.

Source: Fox News, "More questions on antidepressants during pregnancy," Reuters, May 31, 2012

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