Women who use antidepressants during pregnancy do not increase their risk of having a child with autism, according to a study published August 26. Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) analyzed health data on over 6,000 children and their mothers. They concluded that although the risk of autism was higher among women who took antidepressants during pregnancy, the increased risk was probably due to the mothers' underlying disease of depression.
Untreated depression during pregnancy can cause significant health problems for a woman. She may not eat properly, miss doctor's appointments or abuse drugs or alcohol according to the Office on Women's Health. Untreated depression can increase a woman's risk for a premature baby and for other medical problems during her pregnancy and delivery. Any woman who thinks she is depressed should contact her doctor as soon as possible. Women who are pregnant and taking antidepressants should not stop taking them without consulting their physicians.
"We know that untreated depression can pose serious health risks to both a mother and child, so it's important that women being treated with antidepressants who become pregnant, or who are thinking about becoming pregnant, know that these medications will not increase their child's risk of autism," says Roy Perlis, MD, senior author of the report.
The results of the MGH study are consistent with a Danish study published in 2013. Danish researchers found no significant link between antidepressant use during pregnancy and an increased risk of having a child with autism. Danish investigators acknowledged there was an "association" between antidepressant use during pregnancy and autism, but attributed this to the mother's mental health disorder and not the medication.
As part of this study, researchers also investigated a possible link between antidepressant use during pregnancy and Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). They reviewed data on nearly 8,000 children and their mothers. Researchers determined that the risk of having a child with ADHD increased significantly when the mother took antidepressants during pregnancy.
"Prenatal antidepressant exposure is associated with risk for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder but not autism spectrum disorder in a large health system" is published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.