Study Says Prenatal Antidepressant Use Likely Does Not Raise Autism, ADHD Risk

Mass General research suggests taking antidepressants while pregnant does not result in a higher autism risk in babies.


Pregnancy photo via Shutterstock

Less than a month after a major study suggested that prenatal antidepressant use may be tied to a higher risk of autism in children, Massachusetts General Hospital has released research saying just the opposite.

Mass General examined internal medical records, as well as records from patients at four other Boston hospitals, and determined that a mother’s prenatal antidepressant use probably does not raise her child’s risk of having autism or ADHD. Researchers noted in a statement that mothers with severe depression are, in general, more likely to have children with neuropsychiatric disorders, but the antidepressants they take during pregnancy do not appear to be the root cause—a key distinction from the December study.

“Some of the studies that have suggested an association did not account for key differences between mothers who take antidepressants and those who don’t, in particular that those taking antidepressants are more likely to have more severe illness,” says Roy Perlis, senior author of the study, in the statement.

The study did note, however, that antidepressant use prior to pregnancy has been linked to higher rates of autism and ADHD. Again, however, that correlation may be more indicative of depression’s impact on child development than of medication’s.

Mass General published a study with the same results in 2014, based on the data of mothers and children with records on file at Mass General, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Newton-Wellesley Hospital.

“While taking any medicine during pregnancy can be a difficult decision, we hope the results of our two papers – which now cover more than 2,500 children with autism and almost 4,000 with ADHD – will provide some reassurance to women concerned about getting treatment for depression or anxiety during pregnancy,” Perlis says in the statement. “We want women and the clinicians working with them to be as informed as possible when making this decision.”