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June 16, 2019  
UTERINE NEWS: Feature Story

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  • Mom’s Antidepressants May Cause Disorder in Fetus

    Mom’s Antidepressants May Cause Deadly Disorder in Fetus


    April 19, 2006

    By: Diana Barnes-Brown for Uterus1

    Many women experience depression at some point during or after pregnancy, and in the past few years, antidepressants have offered new hope to a many new and expecting mothers. But when it comes to those who are considering antidepressant use during pregnancy, new research indicates that care should be taken when selecting a treatment for this common form of mental illness.

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    Signs of PPHN

    At birth, babies with PPHN may show some or all of the following signs or symptoms of the condition:
  • A bluish tinge to the skin

  • Visible difficulty breathing (coughing, sputtering)

  • Rapid breathing

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Failure of any of these signs or symptoms to improve when oxygen is given


  • A collaborative effort between University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine and Boston University’s Slone Epidemiology Center has found that mothers’ late-term use of certain antidepressants may lead to a potentially fatal disorder in developing fetuses.

    Specifically, certain commonly used antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, when taken during the second half of pregnancy, can increase the chance that mothers will deliver infants who develop persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPHN).

    Primary pulmonary hypertension is the medical term for abnormally high blood pressure (hypertension) in the arteries feeding the lungs (the pulmonary arteries). It can be passed down as a genetic defect, or it may occur independently by family heredity. However the physiological cause of the rise in pressure is unknown. The increased pressure causes small blood vessels in the lungs to undergo changes which in turn put stress on the right ventricle, or pumping chamber of the heart, which then must scramble to pump sufficient blood to the lungs so that oxygen can be successfully taken into the body. Babies born with PPHN must receive immediate care if they are to survive.

    PPHN is a dangerous respiratory disorder that results in severe respiratory failure in newborns. Normally, the condition affects about one or two babies per thousand. When mothers took an SSRI such as Paxil, Prozac, or Zoloft, their risk increased, but when they took other antidepressants, there was no identifiable risk.

    To conduct the study, lead author Dr. Christina Chambers and her research team examined medical histories and lifestyles of the mothers of 377 infants born with PPHN and 836 infants with no health problems from a total of 97 hospitals in Canada and the United States. Babies whose mothers had taken SSRIs during late pregnancy were roughly six times more likely to develop the disorder than those whose mothers had not.

    Chambers was careful to note that while this study did not establish a causal link between SSRIs and PPHN, the correlation was significant and showed the need for further investigation. She also emphasized that because PPHN is a very rare disorder, the increased risk associated with SSRI use during pregnancy far from ensures that infants will develop it. Finally, dealing with pregnancy and depression at once can be a difficult balancing act, and it may be necessary for moms-to-be to stay on antidepressants in order to preserve their own health and wellbeing, even if risks to developing babies are slightly increased.


    If you enjoyed this article, you might also be interested in the following:
    Happy Mom, Sad Baby: Antidepressants During Pregnancy
    Antidepressants During Pregnancy May Lead to Withdrawal in Newborns

    Last updated: 19-Apr-06

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