A new study published in The BMJ shows the antidepressant medications fluoxetine (Prozac) and paroxetine (Paxil) may cause serious birth defects when taken early in a pregnancy.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers first looked at federal data on more than 38,000 women who gave birth between 1997 and 2009. The team examined the number of birth defects among babies born during that time and asked the mothers if they took antidepressants during the month before they got pregnant or during the first three months of their pregnancies. The scientists found that babies born to women who had taken fluoxetine (Prozac) had higher rates of heart wall defects and irregular skull shape. Babies born to mothers who had taken paroxetine (Paxil) had increased rates of heart defects, abdominal wall defects, and missing brain and skull defects, according to NPR.org.
For the children of women treated with Paxil early in pregnancy, the absolute risk of brain and skull malformation (anencephaly) rose from two to seven per 10,000 births. The absolute risk of heart defects rose from 10 to 24 per 10,000 births, NPR.org reported.
“If you’re planning to get pregnant, it really is important to talk with your health care provider to see if there are options and if you could choose a safer option among antidepressants,” Jennita Reefhuis, an epidemiologist and lead researcher in the study, told NPR.org. “Of course, not all antidepressants work the same for everybody, so that’s something that women need to consult with their health care provider about.”
Dr. Edward McCabe, chief medical officer for the March of Dimes Foundation, told NPR.org that women who are concerned about taking a particular antidepressant while pregnant have other options including weaning themselves off the medications, trying group or individual talk therapy, or simply switching antidepressants. Women should speak with their health care provider first, however, and should never suddenly stop taking antidepressants, as stress in a mother can cause problems with pregnancy.
“That can cause serious risk for the woman, including suicide,” he says, “and if she’s pregnant, even more risk for the developing fetus than the medication itself.”
“A woman who is experiencing the stress of an uncontrolled depression may be putting her baby at significant risk,” Dr. McCabe explained.
The study was published last Wednesday in The BMJ.