Two separate studies have revealed that taking SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), anti-depression drugs, during pregnancy do not significantly increase the overall risk for most birth defects.
However, each study found that taking SSRIs during pregnancy is associated with a small increase in the risk of certain rare birth defects - but they are different birth defects.
"The studies show how important post-market surveillance is in assessing the safety of medications in pregnancy. During pre-approval, drugs are tested on relatively few subjects and only side effects with a large frequency are detected. Once approved, many people take the medication and even very rare side effects surface," Dr. Michael Katz, acting Medical Director of the March of Dimes, said.
"Most prescription drugs are not tested on pregnant women. So we must start monitoring the effects of these medications as soon as they reach consumers, and keep monitoring for as long as it takes to get good data on risks to mothers and babies," Dr. Katz added.
The March of Dimes recommends women discuss the potential risks and benefits of taking SSRIs during pregnancy with their doctors.
Women, who are taking an antidepressant should not stop taking their medications if they discover they are pregnant, but should immediately contact their health care provider. It may be dangerous to stop taking an antidepressant suddenly.
About 10 percent of pregnant women in the United States suffer from depression, some of it undiagnosed.
The studies have been published in The New England Journal of Medicine.