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For years, antidepressants have been suspected of increasing the risk of birth defects. Several studies over the past decade have indicated that women taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other similar medications may be more likely to give birth to babies with heart, cranial, abdominal, and/or neural tube birth defects.

Now, a new study adds more evidence to the issue. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital recently published their findings in PLOS One, indicating that women taking antidepressants during their second and third trimesters are potentially at an increased risk for preterm birth.

Older Studies Showed Similar Results

This isn’t the first study to suggest this connection. In 2007, Suri and colleagues followed 90 women through pregnancy. A total of 49 were taking antidepressants, 22 were not, and 19 did not suffer from depression. Results showed that those who used antidepressants were more likely to deliver prematurely, and were more likely to have babies who needed special care after birth.

In 2003, Hendrick and colleagues looked at birth outcomes for 130 women who were taking SSRI medications during pregnancy. They found that those who were using Prozac (fluoxetine) had an increased risk for low birth weight. And in 2010, a study published in Depression and Anxiety found that the use of antidepressants in pregnancy was “associated with a small, but statistically significant increased rate in the incidence of preterm births, confirming results from several other studies.”

New Study Analyzes Over 40 Study Results

For this latest study published in PLOS One, researchers looked at data on 41 previous studies published through September 2012. These studies focused on women taking antidepressants during pregnancy. They then evaluated all these studies, and found that women taking the drugs in the second and third trimesters had an increased risk of preterm birth. Though this analysis did not indicate risks associated with taking the drugs in the first trimester, researchers noted that the “possibility of residual confounding cannot be completely ruled out.”

Lead author Krista Huybrechts from the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, stated that preterm births have been increasing over the past two decades, making it important to determine what effects antidepressants and other medications may be having on pregnancy.

Senior author Adam Urato, M.D., noted that the complication wasn’t related to the depression itself, but to the medication used to treat it.

Preterm Birth Increases Risk for Lifelong Health Problems

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the “earlier a baby is born, the more severe his or her health problems are likely to be.” They add “more infants die from preterm-related health problems than from any other single cause.”

One in eight infants born in the U.S. each year is preterm, and though many survive due to neonatal intensive care, these may be plagued by things like visual and hearing problems, dental problems, feeding and digestive problems, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, and breathing and respiratory issues. Some of these may not appear until later in childhood, or even into adulthood.

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