Babies born to mothers who took
antidepressants early in their
pregnancy are approximately three
times more likely to develop autism.

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Use of SSRI Antidepressants While Pregnant Produces
High Levels of 'Brain Damage Marker'

The use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) during pregnancy has become a highly contested issue, with mounting medical evidence suggesting SSRI use among pregnant women can cause harmful side effects to a fetus and newborn. The findings of a recent Italian study calls into question why these antidepressant drug are being administered to more and more pregnant women in Europe and the United States without evidence of safety for a fetus. 

Mounting medical evidence suggests that SSRI use among pregnant women can cause harmful side effects to a fetus and newborn.Published in The Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine, the 2011 study found that babies exposed to SSRI antidepressants in utero had significantly higher concentrations of Activin A compared to babies that were not exposed to SSRI's. Activin A is a neuroprotein considered to be a marker for brain damage. 

The controlled study was conducted with a patient population of 48 pregnant women, including 24 women that were treated for depression with SSRI antidepressants. The group treated for depression with SSRI's were given the drugs for at least the last six months during the latter part of their pregnancies. Decisions on dosage, management and drug continuation for the SSRI group were all made by their treating physicians. 

At various points during pregnancy, maternal and fetal samples were collected to measure Activin A concentrations. Activin A concentration found in maternal blood during labor was "significantly higher" in the SSRI group compared to the control group. Activin A concentrations in venous cord blood were also significantly higher in the SSRI group. Lastly, concentrations of Activin A found in amniotic fluid were significantly higher in the SSRI group. 

The results presented highlight the need for further study on this issue. Researchers maintain that short and long-term follow-up neurological studies on the population of this study are necessary to learn more about the central nervous system disturbances that occur as a result of antenatal SSRI usage. 

Summary Information

Antenatal Maternal Antidepressants Drugs Affect Activin A Concentrations in Maternal Blood, in Amniotic Fluid and in Fetal Cord Blood

Valentina Bellissima 1; Gerard HA Visser 2; Tessa F. Ververs 2; Frank van Bel 2; Jacqueline U.M. Termote 2; Marja van der Heide 2; Pasquale Florio 3; Giovanni Li Volti 1,5; Diego Gazzolo 1,5

  1. Cesare Arrigo Children's Hospital, Alessandria, Italy
  2. Department of Perinatal Medicine, Utrecht Medical Center, Utrecht, the Netherlands
  3. Department of Pediatrics, Obstetrics and Reproductive Medicine, University of Siena, Siena, Italy
  4. Department of Drug Sciences, University of Catania, Italy
  5. Oasi Institute for Research on Mental Retardation and Brain Aging, Troina, Italy

The Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine, October 2011, Vol. 24, No. S2, Pages 31-34 (doi:10.3109/14767058.2011.604931)

Stella Cometa, Let's Improve Perinatal Life Foundations, Italy

Additional Studies Linking Antidepressants to Autism


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