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Taking These Antidepressants Won’t Cause Autism in Baby — but They Will Raise His Risk

ByKylie McConville
Updated
February 28, 2017
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A newly released study from Denmark found that women who take selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for depression or anxiety do not cause autism in their babies-to-be. But that doesn’t mean taking them won’t raise baby’s risk.

While the study, which was published journal Clinical Epidemiology, found that these drugs don’t cause autism, researchers did find that children had a higher risk than usual when their moms took the drugs before getting pregnant , suggesting a possible link between a mother’s preexisting mental health issues and the autism developmental disorder. Study author Dr. Anders Hyiid said, “Our interpretation is that women with indications for SSRI use differ from women who do not use SSRIs because of these indications (depression, anxiety), and some of these differences are somehow related to an increased risk of having children who develop autism. Whether these differences are genetic, social or something completely different is speculation at this point.”

For the study, researchers used data on 626,875 babies born in Demark between 1996 and 2005. They recorded which mothers had taken an SSRI like Prozac, Zoloft or Paxil before (or during) pregnancy based on the nationwide registry of prescription drugs available. They found that of the 3,892 children diagnosed with the autism disorder, 52 had mothers that had used one of the drugs while she was pregnant. Researchers found that the risk of autism was 20 percent higher among children whose mothers took an SSRI during pregnancy. However, researchers did note that the difference was so small that it could have also just been a coincidence.

In babies whose mothers had used SSRIs but stopped before becoming pregnant were 46 percent more likely to have autism than other children. And though taking an SSRI during pregnancy didn’t cause autism, it might explain the higher rate among kids whose moms used the drugs before becoming pregnant. Hyiid said, “At this point I do not think that this potential association (SSRI and autism) should feature prominently when evaluating the risks and benefits of SSRI use in pregnancy. People who are taking these drugs prior to pregnancy often have some underlying psychiatric condition, and what they did find in the study was that having some psychiatric disorder does increase the risk of autism.”

Another outcome of the study? Researchers found that taking mood stabilizers or antipsychotics during pregnancy was also linked to an increased risk of autism among children. Those findings, Hyiid added, has given his team “ammunition” for what to look for in the future.

Do you think there should be better alternatives for women taking antidepressants during or before pregnancy?

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