Taking antidepressants during pregnancy can increase the risk of psychiatric disorders in children, according to a study put out by the National Center for Register-based Research at Aarhus University in Denmark. The study included 905,383 children born between 1998 and 2012, all of which were observed by researchers for a maximum of 16 years. Xiaoqin Liu, first author on the paper, said the study’s conclusions differ from past research projects and resemble others. There may be a number of reasons for this. The type and size of the group involved in the study could be one factor. Another factor might be that there is a limited association between antidepressants and psychiatric disorders in children.
As reported by Reuters, the study found that only 3 percent of the observed children ended up with some form of psychiatric disorder before turning 16. However, children birthed by women who continued to use antidepressants after becoming pregnant were 27 percent more likely to be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder than children birthed by women who had taken antidepressants but stopped prior to becoming pregnant. The former received a psychiatric disorder diagnosis 13.6 percent of the time. The latter received this type of diagnosis 11.5 percent of the time.
Additionally, 14.5 percent of kids with mothers who started taking antidepressants during pregnancy were eventually diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, while only 8 percent of children with mothers who never took depression meds received a similar diagnosis.
Liu also found that antidepressants used during the second or third trimester could lead to a higher risk of psychiatric disorders in children.
In the end, women who start taking antidepressants after becoming pregnant are 56 percent more likely to bear a child with a psychiatric disorder than women who had never taken this type of medication. And children born to women who continued to use antidepressants after becoming pregnant were 64 percent more likely to be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder than women with no relation to antidepressants.
Grain of Salt
Liu was very clear that the study should not be blown out of proportion. He told Reuters, “We would like to stress that our study does not suggest or support that women with depression discontinue medication during pregnancy.”
It’s important to note that kids born to women with untreated mood disorders also have an increased risk of being diagnosed with a mental illness.
Dr. Michael Schoenbaum, an advisor at the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, said this type of research has its limits: “On the one hand I believe studies using this type of method can be really important for generating hypotheses, but they are really poorly suited for actually testing the hypothesis. To me this study doesn’t bring us any closer to finding an actual answer.”
Schoenbaum also voiced concerns about how this research would be received. He said people might be scared away from using antidepressants. That’s not good because “[d]epression is a serious thing. Untreated, it’s dangerous to a mother and child,” he told Reuters.
Liu himself cautioned that the results of the study should not be too readily interpreted. Indeed the “observed associations may be attributable” to both the use of meds and severe mental illness.
And as Dr. Kimberly A. Yonkers told Reuters, mental illness often goes unnoticed for too long and registries don’t collect nearly enough data on the issue. Perhaps part of the problem is a lack of awareness surrounding psychiatric disorders.