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Antidepressants during Pregnancy do not Harm a Fetus’ Heart, Study Finds

Update Date: Jun 19, 2014 10:26 AM EDT

Several studies have examined the effects of taking different kinds of medications during pregnancy. In a recent study, researchers focused on the potential side effects of taking antidepressants during the first trimester. They found that these pills did not negatively impact the fetus' heart health.

"I don't know if it will completely settle the debate over antidepressants during pregnancy, but I'm pleased to hear more support for the safety of these medicines in pregnancy," Dr. Rebecca Starck, director of regional obstetrics and gynecology at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, who was not involved with the study, said according to FOX News. "I think many practitioners and obstetricians will be happy to see this study come out,"

For this study, the researchers headed by Krista Huybrechts, an epidemiologist at the Brigham and Women's Hospital, in Boston, MA, examined data collected from 46 states and Washington D.C. There were a total of nearly one million women who gave birth between 2000 and 2007. 6.8 percent, or nearly 68,000 women, were on antidepressants during the first three months of their pregnancy. The team focused on a wide range of antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

After accounting for variables that could increase the risk of heart defects in fetuses, the researchers found no differences between the heart health of babies who were exposed to antidepressants and those that were not. They did not include pregnant women who were being treated with drugs that have already been tied to birth defects.

"We did not find any association for any of the antidepressant categories or the individual drugs we studied," Dr. Huybrechts said. "It will be up to individual physicians and women to determine how much it will sway their opinion one way or the other."

Despite the study's findings, experts criticized the study design stating that the researchers could not determine whether or not pregnant women actually took their pills. The researchers had assumed that women who filled out their prescriptions took their medications accordingly.

"While this is an excellent group of researchers, there are some serious flaws with this study," said Dr. Adam Urato, maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Tufts Medical Center, in Boston according to WebMD. "This isn't rocket science. We know that exposing developing babies to synthetic chemicals is almost always a really bad idea and should be avoided whenever possible. This study does nothing to alter that common sense conclusion."

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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