Antidepressants and Birth Injury

Individuals suffering from clinical depression are often prescribed antidepressant medication that can help to improve their quality of life by dramatic margins. The most common types of antidepressants are known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and they are particularly effective for a number of mental health problems. However, there are some serious side effects that anyone taking SSRIs may encounter – especially women who are pregnant or who are planning to become pregnant in the near future. In fact, antidepressants and birth injury in newborns have been linked; some of the worst offenders when it comes to birth injury are from cases where mothers-to-be were on SSRIs during gestation.

The Difficulties in Diagnosing

There is a large amount of ever-increasing evidence that SSRIs may have a hand in causing birth injury. However, it is often difficult to gather data in that direct experimentation, something that could cause children to be born with injuries or defects, is unethical; this means that scientists and researchers are relegated to relying on anecdotal evidence.

However, there is a growing body of evidence to support diagnosing SSRIs as having a deleterious effect on children developing in the womb. A 2006 study listed in the US National Library of Medicine’s National Center for Biotechnology Information found that the limited available data indicated that anywhere from 20 percent to 30 percent of newborns exposed to SSRIs in the womb towards the end of their gestation had birth disorders such as abnormal suction, abnormal muscle tone, agitation, seizures, or even hyponatremia, a potentially dangerous condition related abnormally low sodium levels.

A Proven Danger

However, there are some SSRIs that are known without a doubt to cause problems in fetal development. One such antidepressant known as paroxetine – more commonly known by its trademarked name of Paxil – has clearly caused birth injury to newborns. In fact, the US Food and Drug Administration has given Paxil a grade of “D.” This indicates that the FDA has documented links between mothers being prescribed Paxil and their children being born with birth injuries. Compared to other SSRIs, which have been classified with a grade of “C” for being unable to definitively prove a link thanks to an inability to experiment on newborn children, a D grade indicates that there have been enough instances of serious adverse effects that no such experimentation is needed to draw a causal link.

Unfortunately, patients suffering from more severe forms of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses that are treated by SSRIs often have little choice when it comes to discontinuing their medication if they become pregnant. With enough advance warning, women who have the ability to plan their pregnancies can work with their physicians and psychiatrists to have themselves weaned off SSRIs that carry a risk of danger to newborn development or have their prescriptions changed to antidepressants that carry a lesser risk of birth injury or birth defects. However, women who discover they’re pregnant without being able to prepare for changing their prescription medication may have to face the choice between suffering withdrawal symptoms from ceasing to take their medication for the remainder of their pregnancy – something which often worsens the symptoms of their mental illness or has severe side effects of its own that could threaten their health or the health of the fetus – or risk causing harm to their unborn child in order to remain a functioning member of society. For many, the choice can be seen as impossible.