Antidepressant Use During Pregnancy May Not Harm Babies’ Hearts, Study Says

A new study may ease concerns.

Antidepressant use during pregnancy does not significantly increase the risk of heart malformations in infants, according to a new study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). Despite warnings from the FDA back in 2005, the current findings—which will be published in the June 19 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine—show no direct link between the two.

These results come after an extensive analysis of data from more than 949,000 American women and their newborns. The study followed the women, 6.8 percent of whom took antidepressants during the first trimester, starting three months before conception through one month after delivery.

“While several studies have evaluated the impact of prenatal exposure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the most commonly prescribed antidepressants during pregnancy, there remained significant confusion and controversy about whether these medications increased the risk of congenital cardiac malformations,” said Krista F. Huybrechts, a BWH researcher and the study’s lead author, in a statement. “Clinicians should be reassured that if women need SSRIs during pregnancy, we have not observed a substantially increased risk of having a child with cardiac malformations.”

According to the report, researchers also examined whether prenatal exposure to the drugs paroxetine (Paxil) or sertraline (Zoloft) could lead to the development of issues like a ventricular septal defect, a hole in the lower chambers of the heart that can cause lung congestion. No potential associations were identified, an important finding given the concerns raised about these particular medications in the past.

Still, Sonia Hernández-Díaz, an HSPH researcher and the study’s senior author, said that more research is required on the pros and cons of the uses of these medications. Currently, 10 to 15 percent of pregnant American women are diagnosed with clinical depression.

“It is important to recognize that this is only one piece of the complex puzzle about the safety of antidepressants during pregnancy,” Hernández-Díaz said.