Babies born to mothers who took
antidepressants early in their
pregnancy are approximately three
times more likely to develop autism.

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SSRI Antidepressants Linked to Autism, Developmental Delay

April 14, 2014

Research conducted by scientists at Johns Hopkins, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and the University of California, Davis, has revealed that boys with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or developmental delay (DD) are three times more likely to have been exposed to SSRI antidepressants in the womb compared to boys with typical development. Their findings were published online in the journal Pediatrics in advance of appearing in the standard issue of the journal.

The investigators reported that first trimester exposure to SSRIs was over three times more likely in boys with autism and third trimester exposure to SSRIs was five times more likely in boys with developmental delay. The authors conclude that "prenatal exposure to SSRIs may increase susceptibility to ASD or DD," and note that their findings are "biologically plausible given that SSRIs interact with the placenta, may raise maternal serotonin to abnormal levels, and act directly on the fetus." One third of autistic children are found to have abnormally high levels of serotonin, the principal neurotransmitter affected by SSRIs.

Not surprisingly, the authors state that the risks of fetal exposure to SSRIs must be balanced with the risks of untreated depression. Similar statements are not uncommon in studies that have linked SSRIs to a wide variety of birth defects and reflect the intimidating influence of big pharma and the psychiatric drug industry on academic research. However, quite apart from the fact that there are effective alternative treatments for depression that do not involve SSRI antidepressants, there appears to be little evidence that depression actually causes pregnancy complications. A January 2013 review of the impact of SSRIs on pregnancy outcomes by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Tufts University concluded, "… it is unclear from the available evidence whether there is an association between pregnancy complications and depression. The belief that this association has been established is prevalent, however, prompting one expert to note: 'Although this belief is strong among some investigators, the evidence to support the independent association of depression with these outcomes is weak.'"

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