Are Anti-Depressants to Blame for Birth Defects During Pregnancy?

So many pregnant women suffering from depression are prescribed anti-depressants, a class of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). However, what many women do not know is that there have been studies linking SSRIs during pregnancy to birth defects in babies, some resulting in death.

Doctor’s most commonly prescribe the anti-depressants Prozac and Zoloft to pregnant women. Drugs in this class of SSRIs have largely been assigned a “C” grade for safety during pregnancy by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That means they have been known to harm animals when taken in large doses, but because researchers cannot ethically test any drug on a human baby, the FDA states that effects on unborn humans remains unproven.

One SSRI, paroxetine (Paxil), has been rated a grade “D” and the FDA, as well as the drug maker, warn women not to take this during pregnancy. Drugs that are rated “D” have been shown to be a risk to a human fetus.

Researchers have repeatedly raised questions regarding the safety of SSRIs during pregnancy. Today more and more studies link SSRIs to increased risks of serious birth defects when the drugs are taken during pregnancy.

There are several birth defects linked to SSRIs. One of the most serious is persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN), a rare problem affecting newborn’s heart and lungs. Some scientists say that taking the drug during the second half of pregnancy can cause PPHN. According to the FDA, “PPHN occurs when a newborn baby does not adapt to breathing outside the womb. Newborns with PPHN may require a ventilator to increase their oxygen level. If severe, PPHN can result in multiple organ damage, including brain damage and death.

In a January 2011 product statement update, Prozac manufacturer Eli Lilly admitted that there is a risk of damage to a babies’ heart when they are in utero. Septal defects (holes in the walls of the heart), can severely compromise blood circulation. These defects can occur when a woman takes an SSRI during the first trimester of pregnancy. Other risks of SSRI use when taken one month prior to conception or while pregnant include malformations of the brain and skull, omphalocele, where the fetus’ organs (intestines, stomach and liver) protrude through a hole in the abdomen, cleft lip and palate, which can interfere with feeding, speech and breathing, as well as respiratory distress at birth or trouble breathing if SSRIs were taking during the third trimester.

As if these are not reasons enough to reconsider taking anti-depressants during pregnancy, researchers are studying the long-term neurological effects of SSRIs on fetuses. A study reported in the Archives of General Psychiatry in July 2011 links the use of SSRIs in the first trimester of pregnancy with increased chances of a baby developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Doctors should discuss all the potential risks of SSRIs with women considering pregnancy and those that are already pregnant. Women should weigh the benefits and risks of taking SSRIs during pregnancy. A mother’s depression would become more severe if her child is born with serious birth defects as a result of her antidepressant use during pregnancy.

If you or a loved one took SSRIs during pregnancy and your baby suffered adverse effects from this drug, you may be entitled to compensation for your babies’ damages. For more information, contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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