Kids’ brains safe from antidepressants in pregnancy

2 minute read

Reassuring new research confirms children aren't at risk of neurodevelopmental conditions after antenatal exposure.

Use of antidepressants during pregnancy does not increase the risk of neurodevelopmental problems in children, according to a recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine.

While earlier research hinted at the link, critics have pointed to the possible confounding role of factors such as parental mental health status, genetics and environment. 

To better understand these potential harms, researchers analysed the chances of neurodevelopmental disorders in a cohort study of 145,000 and 3,000,000 antidepressant-exposed and unexposed pregnancies, respectively.  

After confounding factors were taken into account, the researchers found no link between antidepressant exposure and risk of neurodevelopmental outcomes.  

“These results point to an increased risk of neurodevelopmental disorders owing to factors associated with antidepressant use during pregnancy, but not the medication itself.” 

“Mental health disorders, and in particular depressive disorders, are common among women of reproductive age, including during pregnancy,” they highlighted.  

“Accordingly, antidepressants and other psychiatric medications are frequently prescribed, especially for women with severe illness.”  

While previous results regarding exposure-related risks have been conflicting, the authors emphasised that “it is possible that confounding by indication of antidepressants for severe depression and by genetic and environmental factors associated with neurodevelopmental disorders in children can explain the observed associations”. 

Given the strong crude associations, “antidepressant exposure during pregnancy could be an important marker for early screening and intervention in children,” they concluded. 

JAMA Internal Medicine 2022, online 3 October

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