By Lisa Rapaport
(Reuters Health) – Women who take antidepressants during pregnancy may be more likely to have children with autism, a Canadian study suggests.
The overall risk is low – less than 1 percent of the nearly 150,000 babies in the study were diagnosed with autism by age six or seven.
But children of women who took antidepressants during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy were 87 percent more likely to develop autism than kids born to women who didn’t take the drugs, researchers report in JAMA Pediatrics.
“Depression is a serious and debilitating condition,” said lead study author Anick Berard of the University of Montreal. “This study is not advocating untreated depression. However, it is certainly advocating treatment of depression with something other than antidepressants during pregnancy.”
Some women, particularly if their symptoms are mild, may be able to manage depression during pregnancy with exercise or psychotherapy, Berard added.
The study doesn’t prove antidepressants cause autism. It also doesn’t explore the potential harms of untreated depression or assess whether remedies other than medication might be safer or more effective for women and their babies.
Left untreated, depression during pregnancy is associated with underweight babies who are more likely to wind up in neonatal intensive care. Pregnant women with uncontrolled depression may not eat well or keep up with prenatal visits, and, in the most severe cases they may be at increased risk for suicide.
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