When pregnant women take antidepressants, it sometimes causes their babies to hit developmental milestones late, Danish researchers reported recently.
However, the delays — up to one month — still place the toddlers within the normal range of development.
“These drugs have an effect on the fetus’ brain,” said Dr. Lars Henning Pedersen, who worked on the study. But, he said, the delays “may not matter for the child at all.” Pedersen, from Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark spoke. Now, many pregnant women are diagnosed with major depressive disorders and most are treated with antidepressants. For their study, Pedersen and his colleagues tapped into a nation-wide Danish database of more than 100,000 pregnancies.
They identified some 400 women who took antidepressants during pregnancy as well as nearly 500 who were not on medication despite being depressed. Based on the women’s own reports, the researchers then compared how many children in each group hit developmental milestones such as sitting without support, looking after sounds and venting irritation.
At six months, the only differences between babies were seen in their gross movements. Among babies exposed to antidepressants in the second or third semester, 26 percent were able to sit on their own, compared to 30 percent of those not exposed. The exposed toddlers took an average of 16 days longer to learn how to sit, after adjusting for maternal age, breast feeding and other factors. They also started walking about 29 days later. At 19 months, the movement differences had vanished, although the exposed children were slightly worse at occupying themselves without calling out for attention.
Despite the concerns raised by these findings, which add to earlier reports of increased pain sensitivity and risk of heart problems in babies exposed to antidepressants in the womb, experts say that pregnant women with depression should not necessarily avoid antidepressants.
“It’s really a question of balancing benefits and risks to the mother and child,” developmental pediatrician Dr. Tim Oberlander of the University of British Columbia said.
The latest guidelines from The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Psychiatric Association recommend that pregnant women consult an ob-gyn and a psychiatrist before deciding on treatment.
Source: The Daily Star, February 26, 2010