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Published on January 11, 2016

Is there a link between anti-depressants and autism? Is there a link between anti-depressants and autism?

One in five women will experience a major depressive disorder (MDD) during their lifetime with the onset of symptoms between the ages of 20 and 40, their main childbearing years.

Ongoing debates about whether women put their newborns at risk by taking antidepressants during their pregnancy continue to make news. A study published last week indicates that antidepressants, specifically SSRI’s, taken during the second and third trimester of pregnancy increased the risk of autism.

Professor Anick Berard and her team from the University of Montreal published their work in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Pediatrics. They reviewed the records of 145,456 single full-term births between 1998 and 2009. Of those children, 1054 were diagnosed with some form of autism spectrum disorder, which was 0.7% of all the children’s records they reviewed.

“If you really read the study, there are two take-home messages,” said William Agel, MD an obstetrician at Cape Cod Hospital.

  • The study and the authors did not suggest any cause and effect between taking an SSRI and autism
  • They stated there is an association with taking an SSRI and having a child with autism

These are two completely different things and it requires further study, he added

“There is absolutely no reason for a woman who needs to take antidepressants during her pregnancy to stop her medication because of this study,” said Dr. Agel.

The three most common SSRIs are Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (Sertraline) and Paxil (Paroxetine).

The National Birth Defects Prevention Study done in 2007 did not show an increased risk in birth defects overall but did indicate a small risk in three rare defects. The study concluded that SSRI’s are relatively safe for use during pregnancy.

The bigger concern is for women who have depression during pregnancy in that they can have poor delivery outcomes if not treated, said Dr. Agel.

Women with significant depression are at risk for not getting good prenatal care because they don’t see their provider, having pre-term deliveries, are at a higher risk for a cesarean section birth, and deliver low birth weight babies.