The lifetime risk for depression in women ranges from 10 percent to 25 percent, with the peak prevalence occurring during the childbearing years. Some reports suggest as many as 14 percent of pregnant women suffer from depression and up to 35 percent of women use antidepressants during pregnancy. Studies involving infants exposed to SSRIs in the womb have shown few ill effects, so most doctors believe these drugs can be safely prescribed for pregnant women. However, most of these studies have only compared major outcomes, such as physical growth and complications evident on the medical record.
In a recent study researchers found that women who use a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) to treat depression or other psychiatric problems during pregnancy may be putting their infants at risk for neurobehavioral problems.
For the study researchers studied 17 full-term newborns whose mothers had taken an SSRI during pregnancy and 17 similar infants whose mothers had not taken one of the drugs, assessing them for more subtle neurobehavioral differences. They found infants exposed to SSRIs in the womb were more likely to have had a shorter gestational age, and were also more likely to suffer from a range of neurobehavioral problems, including nervousness, startles, and sleep disturbances.
Researchers conclude, "Results of the present study call into question the conclusion that SSRI use during pregnancy has little impact on the developing fetus and infant outcome."