Pregnant Women on Antidepressants Need Not Fear ADHD, Autism Risk


Exposure to antidepressants during pregnancy does not impact a baby's risk for autism or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder after birth.

Exposure to antidepressants during pregnancy does not impact a baby’s risk for autism or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) after birth.

In an update to a 2014 study, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital examined data from nearly 3000 children with autism or ADHD-related disorders in order to eliminate or explain the risk for pregnant mothers on antidepressants.

The prior study, which was published in Molecular Psychiatry, found that the increased risk for autism or ADHD was likely related to the severity of the mother’s depression, rather than antidepressant exposure. That study authors added that a mother’s depression was a known risk factor for several neuropsychiatric disorders.

Using a similar cohort, the updated research found that the incidence of autism and ADHD increased among children whose mothers had taken antidepressants prior to becoming pregnant. However, antidepressant use during pregnancy was not linked to increased incidence for autism or ADHD.

Factors such as maternal psychotherapy did increase the risk for autism or ADHD, meaning that these risks may actually be attributed to maternal depression instead of medication use.

“The fact that we now have found, in 2 large case control studies, no increase in the risk for autism with antidepressant use itself should be very reassuring," said senior author Roy Perlis, MD, MSc, who was also involved in the 2014 study, in a press release. “Some of the studies that have suggested an association did not account for key differences between mothers who take antidepressants and those who don’t, in particular that those taking antidepressants are more likely to have more severe illness.”

Dr. Perlis acknowledged that making a decision to take medication during pregnancy can be difficult, but he hoped that the 2 studies would be able to provide reassurance for concerned women.

“While there are depression treatments that don’t involve medication, for some patients, they are not effective, available, or preferred,” Dr. Perlis concluded in the press release. “We want women and the clinicians working with them to be as informed as possible when making this decision.”

The updated study findings were published in Translational Psychiatry.

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