According to an MSNBC article, a growing concern over drugs like Zoloft taken during pregnancy has many women wondering if the anxiety relief of these drugs is worth the risks of birth defects to the developing infant, which include “persistent pulmonary hypertension, a condition in which there are problems with the baby's blood circulation, and not enough oxygen reaches the bloodstream, resulting in respiratory difficulties.” The Mayo Clinic also explains this type of medication can lead to rare but serious side effects, including “septal heart defects,” “a birth defect that affects the brain and skull (anencephaly), a birth defect that affect sutures on the head (craniosynostosis) and a birth defect that affects the abdominal organs (omphalocele).”
MSNBC’s report describes the growing concern about these birth defects among pregnant women receiving prescriptions for antidepressants. Although the article explains many researchers claim untreated depression has a potentially “deleterious effects on the child,” a study conducted by a Yale School of Medicine professor, Dr. Kimberly Yonkers, explains that so far, “results have revealed that major depression by itself during pregnancy does not increase the risk for preterm birth or other major complications,” MSNBC reports.
However, the article explains that according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “Between 14 percent and 23 percent of women will experience symptoms of depression during pregnancy.” MSNBC further explains that around “8 percent of women take antidepressants during pregnancy, according to a study published in 2006.”
Although MSNBC reports that “newer medications, known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors,” have not yet shown a detrimental impact on intelligence and language development, a recent Danish study reported in the American Academy of Pediatrics found that children of mothers who took such medications do see delayed developmental milestones.
In that report, scientists observed that “Children with second- or third-trimester exposure to antidepressants were able to sit 15.9 days … and to walk 28.9 days … later than children of women not exposed to antidepressants,” though the scientists did note these children still fell within the normal development ranges. In addition, the study found that “Fewer children with second- or third-trimester exposure to antidepressants were able to sit without support at 6 months of age … and fewer were able to occupy themselves at 19 months of age.”
The Danish study further found that “Postnatal detection of a disruption in fetal brain development may warrant studies on the various aspects of neuropsychological development at different ages.” The study concludes that “a permanent or reversible effect of antidepressant exposure on fetal brain development, which may depend on the timing of exposure during pregnancy” accompanies anti-depressant use during pregnancy.
MSNBC goes on to say that “Taking medications close to the time of delivery may mean the baby experiences some temporary withdrawal symptoms, including jitteriness and irritability, after birth,” highlighting the effect of these drugs on infants. Although some experts claim the effects of untreated depression can lead to further complications, others argue that “few studies have looked at the potential effects to the child over the long term,” meaning anti-depressants like Zoloft might pose risks to children scientists are not yet even aware of.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (December 17, 2009) “Antidepressants: Safe during pregnancy?” Retrieved on April 26, 2011 from the Mayo Clinic.
Pedersen, Lars Henning, Henriksen, Tine Brink & Olsen, Jorn. (February 22, 2010) “Fetal Exposure to Antidepressants and Normal Milestone Development at 6 and 19 Months of Age.” Retrieved on April 25, 2011 from The American Academy of Pediatrics.
Rettner, Rachel. (April 17, 2011) “Depression dilemma in pregnancy: Ditch meds?” Retrieved on April 25, 2011 from MSNBC.