- In a study published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers found that children of women who used antidepressants during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy were 87% more likely to develop autism, compared with children whose mothers did not take antidepressants.
- However, the risk overall is low when looking at the full study population. Less than one percent of the almost 150,000 babies developed autism by age six or seven.
- It's important to note that this study shows a link between antidepressants during pregnancy and autism, but does now show that antidepressants during pregnancy cause autism.
This study gets to the heart of a concern many mothers share: what effect will medication have on the health of the baby? The researchers drew on a large sample population and were able to show a link—albeit a small one—between antidepressant use in mothers and autism development in the baby.
Specifically, the study found the increased risk tied to the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) class of antidepressants. These include Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft, and Celexa. The study did not, however, examine the detrimental effects a mother's depression may have on her baby's health.
Three percent of the babies in the study were exposed to antidepressants during pregnancy. When the researchers followed up, 0.7% had been diagnosed with autism. Among the smaller subset of babies exposed during the second or third trimester, 1.2% had developed autism.
However, researchers noted one key confounding factor: whether or not the increased risk of autism is somehow tied to the severity of the mother's depression itself, rather than the drugs. As there are no definitive answers yet, this study may be a foundation for additional research.