Many women suffer from depression during pregnancy and as a result, their doctors prescribe them antidepressants to help alleviate the symptoms. However, a new study suggests this practice is not good for the unborn child and that antidepressants are linked to preterm birth, which researchers say is a leading cause of infant mortality.
A preterm birth baby is defined as one who is born prior to 37 weeks of gestation. Preterm birth rates have been steadily increasing for the past two decades and at the same time, so have the instances of women using antidepressants during pregnancy. “Therefore, it is essential to determine what effects these medications have on pregnancy,” said Krista Huybrechts, M.S., Ph.D. with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoecnomics.
Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Tufts Medical center, both located in Boston, Massachusetts, along with Vanderbilt University in Nashville set out to systematically review available literature in order to determine if there was enough scientific evidence to confirm their theory. They recently released the results of the study, which does in fact confirm a link between antidepressant use during pregnancy and preterm birth.
Dr. Adam Urato, from Tufts Medical Center and MetroWest Medical Center, is a specialist in maternal-fetal medicine. He said, during the study, researchers reviewed at length 41 different papers on the topic and that “scientific evidence is becoming clearer” linking preterm birth to antidepressants. “The compilation of preterm birth did not appear to be due to the maternal depression, but rather it appears likely to be a medication effect.”
Throughout the course of pregnancy, the link between preterm birth and antidepressant use showed the highest risk during the third trimester. And while depression in pregnant women is a serious condition that cannot be ignored, there are alternative means of treating their symptoms without administering antidepressants. “Non-drug treatments, such as psychotherapy,” said Huybrechts, may help alleviate the symptoms associated with depression without putting the baby at risk for preterm birth. However, in some instances, such as pregnant women suffering from severe depression, non-drug treatments simply may not work and antidepressants may be required to alleviate their symptoms.
“Preterm birth is the leading cause of infant death.” said Urato. Babies who are born preterm are at a greater risk for infant mortality than those who are born full-term. And those preterm birth babies who do survive are at a much higher risk for developing other health problems such as neurodevelopmental disabilities, which include autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other serious health conditions such as intellectual delays, which include language and memory skills delays.
If a pregnant woman is suffering from depression, regardless of how far along she is, she should speak with her doctor and discuss all available treatment options. If a non-antidepressant solution is available, researchers suggest that as the preferred method, which will help safeguard against preterm birth and all the complications that come along with it. Antidepressants should only be taken when alternative approaches are not effective in alleviating symptoms due to their link to preterm birth.
By Donna W. Martin