Women who used a popular type of antidepressant during the second or third trimester of pregnancy were more than twice as likely to give birth to a child who developed autism, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics.
The report is the latest in a string of concerning studies that antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, can adversely affect developing fetuses. Previous studies have linked SSRI use in pregnant women to miscarriages, stillbirths, birth defects, and behavioral problems.
SSRIs include the brand names Lexapro, Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil and Celexa.
For the latest study, researchers analyzed data from about 145,500 full-term, singleton infants born between 1998 and 2009. They found that 0.72 percent of the babies were diagnosed with autism by age 7. Researchers found that the risk of autism increased to 1 percent for children who were exposed to SSRIs in the first trimester in utero. The risk increased to 1.2 percent if children had been exposed to SSRIs during the second or third trimester in utero.
Researchers adjusted the data for previous history of depression and other factors and found that the risk of autism in infants exposed to SSRIs during the second or third trimester was increased by 87 percent.
Researchers were quick to point out that the study does not draw “a straight line” between SSRI use in pregnant women and autism, and that they do not advocate not treating depression. “It is certainly advocating treatment of depression with something other than antidepressants during pregnancy.”