Antidepressants While Pregnant Could Lead to Decreased Baby Head Size

Antidepressants While Pregnant Could Lead to Decreased Baby Head SizeExpecting women taking certain medications to alleviate the symptoms of depression may be more likely to have children with reduced head growth, the results of a new study suggest.

HealthDay reports that although researchers found that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Paxil and Prozac were effective at treating depression in soon-to-be mothers, use of these medicines also appeared to be linked with a higher risk of preterm birth.

"Fetal body growth is a marker of fetal health and fetal head growth is a marker for brain development," said lead researcher Hanan El Marroun, a fellow with the Sophia Children's Hospital and Erasmus Medical Center's child and adolescent psychiatry department. "We found prenatal exposure to SSRIs was associated with decreased growth of the head, but not decreased growth of the body."

Mothers in the study who were not treated for depression gave birth to babies who were smaller in both the body and the head, researchers stated.

"If the depression is untreated, it affected the whole body; but if the mother used SSRIs, the head growth of the fetus was affected," El Marroun noted. "This may mean that smaller head growth is not explained by depression, but by the SSRIs."

According to El Marroun, this suggests serotonin imbalances in the brain are not good for a developing fetus, and that the long-term brain development of children born to mothers taking SSRIs while pregnant is still somewhat murky. However, El Marroun noted that doctors could perhaps be prescribing SSRIs too often, and alternative depression treatment methods should be considered.

In the study, which was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, El Marroun's research team analyzed the birth outcomes of nearly 7,7000 pregnant women. Among these, 91 percent had no or very mild depression symptoms, roughly 7 percent had symptoms of depression but did not take SSRIs and a little more than 1 percent took SSRIs for treatment of depression during pregnancy.

Children of mothers using SSRIs had less head-circumference growth – an indicator of brain weight – than children of depressed mothers who were not treated with SSRIs.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 13 percent of pregnant women and new mothers show signs of depression, indicating it is a fairly common problem during and after pregnancy.