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SSRI antidepressants in pregnancy not linked with autism in newborns

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A new study appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine, evaluating the possible relationship between moms-to-be use of selective serotonin receptor antagonists (SSRIs) and autism in their children, found no association between such medication and autism. SSRIs include the most commonly used antidepressants, Paxil, Zoloft and Prozac, as well as Celexa.

The study authors analyzed outcomes among over 600,000 live births in Denmark from 1996 through 2005 (with follow-up through 2009). They tried to correlate autism diagnoses among the newborns of women who got prescriptions for SSRIs before and/or during pregnancy, as compared with women and their progeny who had no such medication.

The results are simple to summarize: there was no significant relationship between SSRI use during pregnancy and autism outcomes in the babies. Interestingly, however, a small but significant link was found between SSRI use before pregnancy and autism diagnoses thereafter. This may indicate a link between maternal depression itself and autism, rather than anything medication related.

What does this all mean, possibly? It is well known that women with significant clinical depression have more trouble with pregnancy, and their offspring have poorer outcomes in general, in several health spheres, than non-depressed moms. They are usually advised to continue with their medications during pregnancy (despite the inane comments by Tom Cruise and his ilk, criticizing such use, as if his "religion" gave him any special insights). This is so because a flare-up of depression during pregnancy is associated with rather severe adverse effects on both mother and baby.

Bottom line: Moms-to-be, listen to your doctor's advice, but there's no reason for any pregnant woman with well-controlled depression on medication to just stop her meds on her own.

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