Home » Depression » Antidepressants Pose Risks, Benefits for Pregnant Women
Antidepressants Pose Risks, Benefits for Pregnant Women

Antidepressants Pose Risks, Benefits for Pregnant Women

New research finds the use of common antidepressants to treat maternal psychiatric disorders reduces the risk of certain pregnancy complications including preterm birth and delivery by Caesarean section.

However, the medications — selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs — resulted in an increased risk of neonatal problems.

The findings from researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University Medical Center, and the New York State Psychiatric Institute are published online in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

“To our knowledge, the association between taking antidepressants in pregnancy and a lower risk of preterm birth is a novel finding,” said Alan Brown, M.D., M.P.H., professor of Psychiatry and Epidemiology and senior author.

“Up to now, studies which were based on maternal underlying psychiatric illness had small sample sizes and reported inconsistent results.”

The Columbia researchers with colleagues in Finland studied 845,345 single births in 1996 through 2010 from the Finnish Medical Birth Register. They also analyzed data from national registers on prescription drug purchases, mothers’ psychiatric history, maternal medical history, hospital sources, and healthcare professionals.

Women were categorized into mutually exclusive groups: SSRI users, those with a psychiatric diagnosis related to SSRI use but no antidepressant purchases, and those without a diagnosis or antidepressant purchases. The classifications were used to determine if outcomes resulted from maternal underlying psychiatric illness or due to use of the drugs.

The SSRI class of antidepressants is the most commonly used for treating depression and anxiety during pregnancy, with 4-10 percent of pregnant women prescribed them in Finland and in the U.S.

A total of 12,817 women in the study had purchased the antidepressants during the first trimester or 30 days before the beginning of gestation, and 9,322 (59 percent) made two or more purchases.

The risk of preterm birth was 16 percent lower, and the risk of very preterm birth nearly 50 percent lower in women using the antidepressants during pregnancy compared to mothers with a psychiatric diagnosis but no medication use. Preterm birth is the most important single cause of neonatal and infant death and is associated with long-term neurological disabilities in the surviving infants.

Investigators discovered not taking medicine for maternal psychiatric disorder was associated with an increased risk of Caesarean section (26.5 percent) compared to those without a diagnosis or antidepressant purchases (17 percent).

Researchers also found a slightly greater risk of bleeding during or after delivery (3.5 percent) for women with a diagnosis and in the no-medication group, as compared to those without a diagnosis or anti-depressant purchases (3 percent).

While the risk of being born small for gestational age did not differ for the babies of mothers with or without antidepressant drug treatment, SSRI use was associated with an increased risk of all neonatal problems, including breathing issues, that led to longer hospital stays and neonatal care.

“Our findings provide evidence that taking these antidepressants is associated with a lower risk of preterm birth and Caesarean section and further confirm the results from previous research of a higher risk for several neonatal problems,” noted Brown.

“Given these divergent findings, the decision whether to prescribe these medications during pregnancy should be individualized to the mother’s medical and psychiatric history.”

Source: Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health/EurekAlert
Pregnant woman considering medication options photo by shutterstock.

Antidepressants Pose Risks, Benefits for Pregnant Women

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Antidepressants Pose Risks, Benefits for Pregnant Women. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 5 Aug 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.