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Taking popular antidepressants during pregnancy appears to increase the risk that the baby will be diagnosed with autism or a similar developmental problem (autism spectrum disorder) as it grows older.

This conclusion results from analysis of data on 145,456 pregnancies in the province of Quebec. The medical records were part of the Quebec Pregnancy/Children Cohort and had information on whether the mothers were taking antidepressants during pregnancy. They also had information on the health and development of the children up to age 10. The study covered all pregnancies between January 1, 1998 and December 31, 2009.

SSRI Antidepressant Increased the Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder:

The researchers found that when women took an SSRI antidepressant such as fluoxetine, paroxetine or sertraline during the second or third trimester, the chance of the child having a developmental disorder was 87 percent higher. These drugs may be better known by their brand names Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft.

The overall risk is still very modest; only 1,045 youngsters out of the 145,456 live births were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder during the study. That is less than 1 percent. Doctors warn that women should not stop their antidepressants without medical supervision, since depression itself poses risks during pregnancy.

JAMA Pediatrics, online Dec. 14, 2015

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  1. LK
    Arizona USA

    This study has many problems, widely reported. I am sorry the authors of this news report on your website did not mention them. Further, it is important to note (as your writeup does not) that the study, flawed as it is, did not say SSRI use CAUSED autism.

    I am not sure the general public understands your phrasing of “increased risk” as only meaning an association. For example, one possible hypothesis for a non-SSRI related association is that both depression in mothers and autism in children are related to the same genetic underpinnings. But we don’t know that yet. As a mental health researcher, I can tell you we don’t know much about either causes or mechanisms of action of purported treatments for mental illnesses.

  2. Sam

    If I read this correctly, a woman taking an SSRI during pregnancy is almost twice as likely to have an autistic (or autism spectrum) child. A “very modest risk”? It seems quite significant to me. At the risk of sounding paranoid or cynical, I think this is not big news because antidepressants are big business.

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