Dr. Jam Caleda N.D. Integrative Naturopathic Medical Centre Naturopath YVR
2 min|Dr. Jam Caleda

Anti-Depressant Use During Pregnancy Increases The Risk of Autism in Newborns


A recent Canadian study published this month sought to investigate the correlation between the use of anti-depressants during pregnancy and the development of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children (1-3). Researchers examined 145,456 single births in an 11-year period and found that the use of antidepressants, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), during the second and/or third trimester increases the risk of ASD in children.

The research team had found that 1,054 babies, or 0.7 percent of those studied were positively diagnosed with autism. A total of 4,724 infants were exposed to antidepressants while their mothers were pregnant. 2,532 babies had mothers who took an SSRI during their first trimester, and 40 of the children were later diagnosed with a form of ASD. The cohort of babies (2,192) whose mothers took antidepressants in their second and third trimester, had 31 children with a diagnoses of ASD.

When compared with the rates of autism for children born from women with a history of depression that elected not to take SSRIs during pregnancy, they found that the children of the mothers under SSRI therapy were 75 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ASD.One of the shortcomings of the study were that it didn’t correct for the severity of depression. Researchers determined that the use of multiple antidepressants on top of SSRIs more than quadrupled the risk of ASD in the children, however these therapies were reserved for women with the most severe symptoms.

This may indicate that the increased autism risk is tied to the severity of depression, not the medication.Overall, depression is a serious an debilitating condition, and if left untreated can pose other serious effects during pregnancy, such as harm from poor diet, substance abuse, suicidal behavior, or prematurity. The lead author, Anick berard, of the University of Montreal doesn’t advocate untreated depression, but the study sheds light into the importance of having other methods to treat depression.

  1. Boukhris, T, Sheehy O, MOttron L, Bérard A. Antidepressant use during pregnancy and the risk of autism spectrum disorder in children. JAMA Pediatrics. December 14, 2015. DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.3356
  2. Thompson D. Antidepressants in Pregnancy May Raise Autism Risk, Study Suggests. HealthDay. December 14, 2015. https://consumer.healthday.com/mental-health-information-25/antidepressants-news-723/antidepressants-in-pregnancy-may-rise-risk-of-autism-study-findsm-706132.html
  3. University of Montreal. Taking antidepressants during pregnancy increases risk of autism by 87 percent. Medical Xpress. December 14, 2015. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2015-12-antidepressants-pregnancy-autism-percent.html
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