Antidepressant Use During Pregnancy Linked to Higher Risk of Autism

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Suzy-Cohen-1_2Dear Pharmacist,

My husband and I would like to have a child soon. My sister’s little boy has autism, so I’m naturally concerned for my prenatal care and pregnancy. Is there any way to reduce my risk of having a child with autism? –C.J., Orlando, Florida

Answer: There is so much controversy regarding vaccinations that I’m not even going to entertain that here. Instead, I’ll tell you about a less debatable finding based on a brand new study, conducted at Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California Research Division in Oakland that found mothers of autistic children were twice as likely to have taken a an antidepressant in the year prior to their delivery. The risk appears even stronger if the antidepressant is taken during their first trimester.

The study published in July 2011, in the Archives of General Psychiatry, analyzed prenatal data for women who took antidepressants in the class of “selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors” known more commonly as SSRIs. These are the most prescribed mood enhancers in the entire world known generically as paroxetine, sertraline, citalopram, escitalopram and fluoxetine.

Researchers analyzed prenatal and maternal data from 1,805 children. Researchers stopped short of saying that antidepressants cause autism because that connection was not made. They simply reported that mothers of autistic children were more likely to have taken SSRI antidepressants, which begs the question: Should you wean off your antidepressants if you are planning to become pregnant?

It’s certainly worth a discussion with your doctor, outlining other treatment options for depression, both pharmaceutical and alternative. Knowing your options becomes incredibly important, especially since there is not a cure for autism so anything you can do to prevent it is helpful. SSRIs have uncomfortable side effects including brain fog, sexual dysfunction, insomnia, diarrhea, tremors, and suicidal thoughts in extreme cases.

My concerns aren’t about the medication, it’s that some physicians prescribe these drugs at the drop of a hat to women who have underlying hormonal or micronutrient deficiencies. If you’re planning to become pregnant, and you wish to discontinue your antidepressants talk to your doctor about how to wean off. Don’t suddenly stop taking an SSRI on your own, do it with medical supervision and approval, and most of all, do it slowly!

As often occurs with other journalists, the study is being reportedly inaccurately. They are saying that autism rates were increased in children whose mothers took SSRIs during the year before they got pregnant. The study suggests the problems were in women who took the medication in the year before delivery of their baby, that is, just before and during their pregnancy. Big difference. If you would like advice regarding natural alternatives, I’ll post those on my facebook FAN page, the link to that is on my website homepage. For information on autism, visit two great resources on the web: and

Did You Know?

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