A new study — entitled “Antidepressant Use During Pregnancy and the Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children” — concludes that use of antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, during the second and/or third trimester increases the risk of autism in children.

STAY CALM.  Pregnant women currently using anti-depressants should not discontinue use of antidepressant medication without consulting their medical and/or mental health providers.  Abrupt cessation of anti-depressant medication is never encouraged.

Women who took antidepressants during pregnancy and subsequently had a child diagnosed with autism should not believe they “caused” their child’s illness.  Many factors influence autism, and women made decisions based on the available information at the time.

While PSVa applauds studies into the efficacy of antidepressant use during pregnancy, this study – like many studies – has significant limitations.  Here are some things that psychiatrists who specialize in caring for pregnant women have pointed out about this article:

  1. The additional absolute risk is very small (< 1%).
  2. The study did not control for several important factors: depression severity, dose of antidepressants, or whether women actually took the medications.
  3. The researchers were not able to separate the effects of antidepressants from those of the underlying depression.
  4. The study did not take into account lifestyle issues.

And a few other items of note:

  1. The group that published this study is the same group that published an article in 2004 – which has now been refuted by two large well-controlled studies – that claimed a link between Paxil and pediatric cardiac defects.
  2. One of the authors of the article was disqualified in a court case against Zoloft.
  3. Some of the genes associated with depression overlap those related to autism.

What does all this mean?

Take caution in concluding that this study has identified a unique risk of antidepressant use in pregnant women related to autism.

Experts in the field of reproductive mental health are reviewing the study in more detail and will share their conclusions as they become available.

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