Women are told to avoid many things once they discover they are pregnant: consuming alcoholic beverages, drinking too much caffeine, inhaling smoke, and participating in thrill rides or more adventurous activities. The list of what a pregnant woman should not do is much more extensive than this and continues to grow as new medical evidence comes to light.

Medical experts are debating whether certain antidepressants should be added to the list.

SSRI Drugs and Birth Defects

Several recent studies have established a correlation between expectant mothers using certain antidepressants — more commonly referred to as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) — and babies born with heart defects or other disorders:

  • •In Finland, a study of almost 636,000 births determined that women taking antidepressants Prozac and Paxil (fluoxetine and paroxetine, respectively) had a slightly higher chance of giving birth to babies with heart defects – about a 1.05 percent chance in mothers taking Prozac and a 0.31 percent chance for those on Paxil.
  • In a 2005 Danish, a study of a half-million children found an increased risk of babies being born with heart defects when mothers took Prozac, Zoloft (sertraline) and Celexa (citalopram).
  • In the United States, a study of almost 13,000 infants found that women using Wellbutrin (bupropion) while pregnant were twice as likely to have children with left outflow heart tract defects.
  • A small study in the Archives of General Psychiatry, involving less than 300 children, suggested that fetuses exposed to antidepressants like Zoloft and Prozac in the first trimester are four times as likely to develop a form of autism as children who were not exposed to SSRIs while in the womb.

These recent studies indicate that there is a higher probability of developing congenital heart defects and other congenital birth defects in babies born to mothers who took these SSRI drugs compared to newborns whose mothers did not take antidepressants.

SSRI antidepressants are typically prescribed to treat depression, bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

The Pregnancy Debate: To Use SSRIs or Not

It is believed that between 3 and 6 percent of women take SSRIs during pregnancy.

The lead doctor of the Finland study was quick to note that the results of these limited studies do not mean that antidepressant drugs are never safe in pregnancy. While antidepressant use may expose the child to potential birth defects, in some cases it may be better for the well-being of an expecting mom with depression to remain on the SSRI antidepressants.

While the medical community continues to debate whether expectant mothers should be allowed to take SSRIs – or even be prescribed such – a number of mothers who have given birth only to find their infants plagued with a heart defect or other serious medical condition have filed lawsuits against the drug manufacturers. If your doctor prescribed these medications to you while you were pregnant, contact a lawyer experienced in handling defective drug cases to learn your rights.