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A series of recent studies, including one just published at the Drexel University, found that there is almost no co-relation between pregnant women taking anti-depressant medication and their children born with autism.
The estensive Drexel study examined children born in Stockholm, Sweden between 2001 and 2011 to “mothers who did not take antidepressants and did not have any psychiatric disorder, mothers who took antidepressants during pregnancy, or mothers with psychiatric disorders who did not take antidepressants during pregnancy.” amongst these 254,610 children were 5378 who are autistic.Just 4.1 percent of the children exposed to antidepressants whilst in utero have been diagnosed somewhere on the autism spectrum.That is just higher than the 2.9 percent of children who were not exposed to the medications and were born with autism to mothers who had been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder.
According to researchers, “there was no evidence of any increased risk of autism in children whose fathers were prescribed antidepressants during the mothers’ pregnancy.” this means antidepressants proved no great determinate factor for birthing children with autism when taken by either biological parent.Researchers also compared children to their siblings and still found no change in the rates of children born with autism.
This severity of comparison helps the Drexel study standout as an important look at potential causes for autism, which continue to elude scientists.The authors note that their study should stand up to scrutiny because it “included the total population of Stockholm County and benefited from multisource ascertainment of cases, as opposed to studies that rely on hospital discharge diagnoses” while noting that some records may not be entirely accurate.
The team of researchers consisted of a mix of epidemiologists, experts on the spread and nature of diseases, and psychiatric researchers.They concluded that “if no pregnant women took antidepressants, the number of cases that could potentially be prevented would be small.” Psychiatric lecturer Dheeraj Rai led the team during their longitudinal study of Swedish children, published in The BMJ as “Antidepressants during pregnancy and autism in offspring: population based cohort study”
Other studies published this year support the Drexel team’s findings.They found no causation between antidepressant use before or during a woman’s pregnancy and neurodevelopmental issues in her child.Despite these separate studies reaching the same conclusion, these researchers continue to call for further experimentation.
The experiment was conducted as a response to studies published in recent years which have “assessed the relation between antidepressant use during pregnancy and autism in offspring, but robust conclusions have been elusive.Although most studies found evidence of unadjusted associations, conclusions differed because of concerns about ‘confounding by indication.’” These studies, as well as the generalized backlash against medications which some have come to believe cause autism in children, have contributed to conversations regarding “the fetal safety of antidepressant exposure during pregnancy.”
The fact that antidepressants often cross from mother to fetus through the placenta and have the potential to affect fetal growth also influenced researchers’ decision to study these parents and their children.
To test for the influence of antidepressants Rai and his team looked at prescription records and collected anecdotal testimony from the Swedish parents whose children were being examined.
To account for the small but noticeable rise in children on the autism spectrum born to women who did take antidepressants, the researchers note that these children mostly had autism without any intellectual disabilities, “a phenotype that has been shown to be more heritable,” offering an explanation outside of the medication itself.
The research team states that there is no significant risk of affecting a child’s fetal development by taking antidepressants, but still advise expecting mothers to do their own research and make the decision which they believe is best for them.Rai said, “our advice would be for women to discuss their concerns with their treating clinicians who will be able to help them weigh the pros and the cons.” The harmful side effects of suspending antidepressant use ought to be taken into consideration.
As should the benefits of continued use by mothers, especially those who find their pregnancy factoring into their depression.The study notes that depression is relatively common in young women, with almost one in every ten pregnant European women holding prescriptions for antidepressants during pregnancy.The mental health and safety of a pregnant mother must be considered equally if not more so than that of the child she expects to give birth to in the future.
Rai’s team hopes that more light will continue to be shed on these important issues going forward.They write “it is important to continue the investigation of possible underlying biological mechanisms that could help us to better understand the aetiology of autism.”