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Antidepressants Two-Fold Risk To Babies In Pregnancy

Mothers using popular SSRI drugs can unknowingly increase the number of very serious and potentially deadly birth defects.

AnnA Rushton

Pregnancy is when women are meant to bloom, and many do as the levels of progesterone rise.  However for women who already have a history of depression and are taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Paxil and Prozac, there is mounting evidence that they should be taken with extreme caution – if at all – during pregnancy because of the health risks they pose to their unborn babies.

The Two Major Risks To The Unborn Baby’s Health

The first was established in a Finnish study published in July 2011 which provided evidence that exposure to SSRIs in the first trimester of pregnancy increases the risk for major congenital anomalies, particularly heart problems.

Now a second risk of increased birth defects was revealed in January 2012 in a new study published online by the British Medical Journal.  This revealed that women who take SSRIs during pregnancy are more likely to give birth to children with a very dangerous and serious condition — persistent pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs).   This condition is caused by an increase in blood pressure in the lungs which leads to shortness of breath and other breathing difficulties. This is no minor problem, either, but a severe disease with strong links to heart failure.

The new study is a very large scale one undertaken by scientists at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.  They investigated 1.6 million births between 1996 and 2007 in five Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

They compared births from mothers who had taken anti-depressants in their pregnancy to those who had not, including women who had a previous psychiatric diagnosis but who did not take any antidepressant medication during their pregnancies.

Babies born to the women in the study were assessed after 33 weeks and they found that taking SSRIs appeared to clearly raise the risk of pulmonary persistent hypertension.  That amounts to three babies with pulmonary persistent hypertension for every 1000 women taking SSRIs in early pregnancy and double that if the drugs were taken in late pregnancy.

That may not sound like a lot, but pulmonary persistent hypertension in a baby is a very serious disease and one that could be prevented by avoiding these drugs in pregnancy.

Help for Anxiety and Depression:

There are many natural approaches that can be tried including specific exercise, good nutrition, stress relief, yoga and much more.  Dr Tony Coope has written an excellent series of articles on the depression that women can suffer after giving birth, including dealing with the mood swings that the sudden drop in progesterone can cause,  and you can read part one at and for information on the role of progesterone in helping to deal with anxiety and mood swings in menopause this article sheds some light on its role:

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Comments 4
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Anne-Marie | 5:49 pm, January 24th, 2012

The point of my original comment was this post does a really poor job of reporting that research and to link to the original study so that readers at least had access to it.

Anne-Marie | 4:03 am, January 24th, 2012

No one has TOLD ME to do anything. I had to make that serious, personal decision after consulting no fewer than three doctors and a therapist. I have to choose between the awful effects all the stress my debilitating anxiety would put the fetus through or the potential harm of the drugs. It’s one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. If you think that I’m a bad mother for it, then I think that you have got no clue what a daily anxiety attacks feel like. And have clearly not read a THING about the teratogenic effects of cortisol, the stress hormone your own body makes that poisons a fetus.

Cindy | 3:44 am, January 24th, 2012

Is it more responsible to suggest pregnant women should take a potential teratogen, which could cause not only PPHN, but birth defects, neonatal withdrawal, developmental delay and possibly autism? However low the statistics, ask any mother with a baby born with a serious birth defect and she will tell you, no matter how low the risk, she would not have chanced it for the world.

Anne-Marie | 9:15 pm, January 23rd, 2012

This article is inflammatory and irresponsible. First: the ONLY anti-depressant that is known to cause ANY increase in the risk of heart defects is Paxil, a drug no one takes during pregnancy any more for that reason. Second: the study you reference found that 33 of the 11,014 infants whose mothers had taken SSRIs were born with persistent pulmonary hypertension. That’s three babies in every one thousand, compared to 1.2 in 1000–the normal risk. On the other hand, depression during pregnancy can cause low birth weight and preterm labor, to name two risks. For anyone who wants to read the study itself and not just this absurd article (which sites no sources) you can find it here:

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