Another reason why you and your doctor should have a serious talk about whether antidepressants are the safest way to treat your depression now that you're pregnant? According to a study, moms who take certain antidepressants during pregnancy may be more likely to have a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) compared to mothers who deal with their depression through other means.
In the study, researchers from Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California, examined medical records for children who were already taking part in a California-based autism research program. This included 298 children with ASD and their mothers, and 1,507 non-autistic children and their mothers. As Time magazine reports, the scientists found that women who were prescribed drugs to treat depression in the year before giving birth were twice as likely to have children with an ASD, compared with women who did not take antidepressants. The risk was even greater for women who were prescribed the drugs in the first trimester—their children were nearly four times more likely to develop autism or a related disorder.
"Although the number of children exposed prenatally to [antidepressant medication] in this population was low, results suggest that exposure, especially during the first trimester, may modestly increase the risk of ASD," researchers conclude. "We recommend that our findings be considered as preliminary and treated with caution."
It's important to note that this study focused only on one type of antidepressant, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of drug that includes fluoxetine (Prozac®), paroxetine (Paxil®) and sertraline (Zoloft®). These antidepressants work by increasing available levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, which helps boost mood.
Why just look at SSRIs? According to Time, there is growing evidence that serotonin may play a role in the development of autism. Some studies have found that children diagnosed with the disease tend to have higher levels of serotonin in their blood, and family members of children with autism also show slightly higher levels of the neurotransmitter than those in families without autistic members.