Pregnant women often go to great lengths to ensure their unborn child’s safety. The meticulously followed advice telling them to quit smoking, drink less, eat certain foods and give up their morning coffee – no habit is too big to kick.
Yet despite all these changes, some women might continue taking antidepressants whilst they are pregnant. This issue has been highlighted in recent studies that suggest a link between the use of certain antidepressants during pregnancy and an increased risk of health complications to the child including diabetes and obesity.
The studies relate to popular ‘selective serotonin re uptake inhibitor’ antidepressants, which are often prescribed to individuals suffering from extremely high stress levels or depression. Some statistics show that up to 1 in 20 women use antidepressants during pregnancy, with the majority using S.S.R.I’s.
In one study, researchers from the John Hopkins University claimed that young boys with autism were three times more likely to have had some exposure S.S.R.I’s during pregnancy. Lead researcher and psychiatric epidemiologist Li-Ching Lee states “we found prenatal S.S.R.I exposure was nearly three times as likely in boys with ASD relative to typical development, with the greatest risk when exposure took place during the first trimester”.
A further study in Norway found that the use of S.S.R.I’s during pregnancy was associated with a reduced grasp of language within the first few years of the child’s life. Both of these studies have added fuel to the debate about whether the use of antidepressants should be controlled by health bodies more rigorously.
However, there are problems with offering blanket advice on the dangers of antidepressants during pregnancy. There are obvious health risks to both woman and foetus during pregnancy if the mother-to-be has untreated depression. Depression as a condition can have an impact on factors such as food and sleeping habits – essentials to a healthy pregnancy.
The worry is that the results of these studies will scare women away from seeking the treatment they need, which becomes especially important during pregnancy. Many health experts are advocating a more pragmatic approach when it comes to the use of antidepressants during pregnancy by deciding on the relevant outcome most suited for the mother-to-be and child.
That being said, it is advised that some women should speak to a medical professional to find a possible replacement for antidepressants. There are many options that are useful, ranging from counselling to meditation. The use of antidepressants during pregnancy should be limited to exceptional cases, where the risk to the mother of untreated depression and her unborn child outweighs the potential risk of the use of S.S.R.I antidepressants.