Over the years, millions of women have been prescribed popular antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). But recently, women of childbearing age have been cautioned about taking an antidepressant based on research studies which link the medications to an increase of birth defects, miscarriages and other health problems in both the mothers and their infants. These SSRI drugs include:
- Zoloft® (sertraline)
- Paxil® (paroxetine)
- Prozac® (fluoxetine)
- Celexa® (citalopram)
- Lexapro® (escitalopram)
- Effexor® (venlafaxine)
Antidepressant Side Effects:
The antidepressant side effects are not new. It has long been known that taking these drugs cause a myriad of health problems: Constipation, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, blurred vision, dizziness, drowsiness, bladder problems, increased heart rate, and even increased risk of suicide in children and teens. But, emerging medical research concludes that SSRI antidepressant side effects also include these congenital defects in newborns:
- Heart defects including atrial septal defects, coarctation of the aorta, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, heart valve defects, pulmonary atresia, pulmonary stenosis, transposition of the great arteries and tetralogy of fallot
- Pulmonary (lung) defects including persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN)
- Neural tube defects (brain and spinal cord) such as Spina Bifida
- Craniosynostosis (skull defect)
- Infant omphalocele (abdominal wall defect) in which the intestines and/or abdominal organs protrude through the baby’s belly button
- Limb malformations including club foot (one or both feet turn downward and inward)
- Anal atresia (complete or partial closure of the anus)
Antidepressant Side Effects Implicated in Incline in Autism Rates
The rates of autism have steadily inclined over the past several years, and many researchers have looked into possible causes of this occurrence. One small study revealed that taking SSRI antidepressants during pregnancy doubles the risk of babies being born with autism. In this study, children born to mothers who received a prescription for any antidepressant in the year before delivery were twice as likely to have an ASD (autism spectrum disorder).
In addition, antidepressants are often prescribed to children with autism. Take, for example, the heavily-prescribed SSRI antidepressant medication Celexa. This drug is most commonly prescribed to autistic kids to reduce the occurrence of their repetitive behaviors. But, one study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry showed that Celexa actually makes repetitive behaviors in autistic children worse.
Miscarriages, Pre-Terms Births and Poor Maternal Health also Linked to Antidepressant Side Effects
A recent study published in the medical journal Human Reproduction has further increased doctors’ concerns about use of SSRIs in women of childbearing age. After reviewing an abundance of scientific data, the researchers concluded that the risks of SSRIs far outweigh any potential benefit to the mother. The data repeatedly showed SSRI use in pregnancy significantly increased the risk of miscarriages, pre-term births, and serious health complications in the mother.
Lead author of the study, Dr. Adam Urato, obstetrician and chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham, Massachusetts, stated, “At least 40 studies have linked a woman’s use of SSRIs to the pre-term birth of her baby, which can lead to a host of other complications. Four other studies show that SSRIs elevate the risk of pre-eclampsia, or high blood pressure, in the mother that can lead to liver problems, stroke and stillbirth.”
SSRI Antidepressant Side Effects in Women with Infertility Issues
The study also shows that SSRI use impacts fertility and lays out the findings in clear language:
“Antidepressant use is associated with possible reduced infertility treatment efficacy as well as high rates of pregnancy loss (miscarriage), preterm birth, pregnancy complications, neonatal issues and long-term neurobehavioral abnormalities in offspring… There is little evidence that infertile women benefit from taking an SSRI, therefore they should be counseled appropriately about the risks and be advised to consider alternate safer treatments to treat depression.” 
Should pregnant women or women who are planning to become pregnant take these drugs? That is the million dollar question and one that every woman of childbearing age should ask! Learn how to protect mother and baby from the antidepressant side effects in part 2 of this article here.