Exposure to SSRI Antidepressants in Utero Causes Birth Defects, Neonatal Withdrawal Symptoms, and Brain Damage

By Breggin, Peter R.; Breggin, Ginger | Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, April 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Exposure to SSRI Antidepressants in Utero Causes Birth Defects, Neonatal Withdrawal Symptoms, and Brain Damage


Breggin, Peter R., Breggin, Ginger, Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry


Pregnant mothers should avoid taking SSRI antidepressants-they are hazardous to the developing fetus, cause withdrawal symptoms in the newborn baby, and induce biochemical and morphological abnormalities in the brain. If pregnant mothers need help with sad or anxious feelings, they should seek counseling or psychotherapy, especially family therapy involving the child's father, as well as other sources of emotional support.

Keywords: antidepressants; birth defects; pregnancy; SSRIs; psychiatric drugs; depression

On June 28, 2007, more than 250 headlines around the world promised that SSRI antidepressants (such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, and Celexa) were safe for pregnant mothers and their developing babies. "Mom's Antidepressant Use Poses Little Danger to Baby" heralded the Washington Post (Gardner, 2007). "Antidepressants Pose Low Birth Defect Risk " claimed Boston Globe (Donn, 2007). The New York Times ran with "Antidepressants Rated Low Risk in Pregnancy" (Carey, 2007). The Wall Street Journal 's coverage was titled "Reassurance on Antidepressants in Pregnancy" (Seward, 2007). The day before the news stories broke, the Centers for Disease Control heralded the news in advance with a press release, "New Study Finds Few Risks of Birth Defects From Antidepressant Use During Pregnancy" (CDC Division of Media Relations, 2007).

The headlines and the CDC press release were misleading. In the CDC study, several severe birth defects were doubled or nearly tripled in frequency when SSRIs were taken in the first trimester.

SSRI antidepressant use by pregnant mothers in the first trimester of pregnancy was shown to have previously unidentified links to three birth defects in two new studies reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. One study was associated with the CDC (Alwan, Reefhuis, Rasmussen, Olney, & Friedman, 2007) and the other with Boston University (Louik, Lin, Werler, Hernandez-Diaz, & Mitchell, 2007).

The study led by Sura Alwan and colleagues involved the CDC and showed the following:

Anencephaly -birth without a forebrain-showed a 2.4 times greater occurrence in women who had taken SSRIs in the first trimester. This is a catastrophic, fatal birth defect that is not correctable.

The study examined histories of 9,622 cases of birth defects and 4,092 controls who were infants born without birth defects. Some stillbirths (occurring at 20-plus weeks gesta-tion) were included, but if anencephaly resulted in a spontaneous miscarriage or a planned abortion, these events would not appear in this study's findings.

Omphalocele -babies born with organs outside the body-was found to be present 2.8 times as often in the SSRI-treated mothers compared to the control group. Some media portrayed this birth defect as a small hernia of the umbilical cord-but severity of the condition varies, usually requires surgery as well as weeks to years of adapting, and can be life-threatening.

Craniosynostosis -the premature closing of one or more sutures or fibrous joints knitting the bones of the infant's skull-showed 2.5 times more prevalence in infants exposed in utero to SSRIs. This condition also varies in severity. It can be primarily a bone condition of the skull or it can be secondary to an underdeveloped brain in the infant.

Craniosynostosis occurs in about 4 per 10,000 births according to the National Institutes of Health. A 2.8 times greater occurrence of this condition will cause 2,305 more U.S. babies to be born each year with this birth defect as a result of their mothers taking SSRIs in the first trimester of pregnancy. 1

In the abstract to the report, the CDC study claimed to find no association between SSRI use in pregnancy and heart defects in neonates. However, the study found that obese women who did not use SSRIs had an increased risk with heart defects and that obese women who did use SSRIs had an even greater risk of neonatal heart defects with an adjusted odds ratio of 5. …

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