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Antidepressants During Pregnancy Increase The Risk Of Birth Defects

Update Date: Jan 20, 2017 09:40 AM EST

A new study says that taking antidepressants during pregnancy may heighten the risk of having a baby with birth defects.

Published in the British Medical Journal, a team of researchers at the University of Montreal found the risk, which is 6 to 10 percent compared to 3 to 5 percent in women who do not take the drugs, is highly enough to release caution to those taking the drugs.

"In pregnancy, you're treating the mother but you're worried about the unborn child, and the benefit needs to outweigh the risk," Anick Bérard, senior author of the study, said in a press release.

The new study raises more concerns about the increasing number of pregnant women taking antidepressants, as these drugs were found to double the risk of major congenital malformations in infants, Montreal Gazette reports.

However, Bérard also cautioned pregnant women against stopping their medication and said that they should consult their doctors first.

Study's Findings

To land to the findings, the team looked at 18,487 depressed women in the Quebec Pregnancy Cohort, a longitudinal, population-based grouping of 289,688 pregnancies recorded from 1998 to 2009. Out of the women assessed, 3,640 or 20 percent took antidepressants in the first three months of pregnancy.

The first trimester of pregnancy is a crucial period where the organs of the fetus are developing. The intake of antidepressants during this period may interfere with serotonin intake by the fetus, which could lead to various malformations. This is because serotonin during early pregnancy is important for the development of all embryonic cells. Any alteration in the serotonin signaling process may possibly result in a wide spectrum of malformations, the study notes.

In Quebec alone, approximately 135,000 Quebec women get pregnant each year. Of those, about 7 percent show some signs of depression while less than one percent suffers from severe depression.

Bérard noted that depression is on the rise worldwide and can be particularly serious during pregnancy. With this rise, doctors, psychiatrists, and obstetricians are prescribing more antidepressants than ever to pregnant mothers. In fact, in the study, the proportion of expectant mothers on antidepressants in Quebec doubled, from 21 users per 1,000 pregnancies in 1998 to 43 per 1,000 in 2009.

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