Citizens Commission on Human Rights
National Affairs Office
Washington, DC

Expectant mothers considering psychiatric drugs should have the increased risks of premature birth and respiratory, circulatory, and feeding problems for their newborns fully disclosed to them by their prescribers.

The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), a mental health watchdog organization, is calling attention to a new study indicating the increased risks of newborns experiencing respiratory distress, circulatory distress, and feeding problems as a result of their mothers taking psychiatric drugs during pregnancy. Newborns exposed to the drugs in the womb were also more likely to have been born prematurely, researchers found. CCHR is making the research known so that expectant mothers and their prescribers can make fully informed decisions about starting or stopping the drugs. 

Observing that the use of antidepressants for depression during pregnancy has increased worldwide and that pregnant women may be taking other types of psychiatric drugs as well, German researchers set out to investigate the frequency and severity of the resulting effects on newborns from their exposure to single or multiple psychiatric drugs before birth. 

Immediate medical attention was needed for 41% of the newborns whose mothers took psychiatric drugs during pregnancy, as compared to 3% of newborns whose mothers did not take the drugs.

Among 207 newborns studied, nearly two out of three (62%) had clinical symptoms after birth from exposure in the womb to their mother’s psychiatric drugs. This was close to four times as many as in the control group (17%) of newborns whose mothers had not used the drugs. 

Neonatal therapy was needed for 41% of the newborns exposed to psychiatric drugs, as compared to 3% of newborns who were not exposed. It made no difference if the mothers took one or multiple psychiatric drugs or what class of psychiatric drug was used. The greater need for neonatal therapy resulted from cumulative multiple symptoms. 

One in three psychiatric drug-exposed newborns with symptoms had more than one symptom, which was six times as many as non-exposed newborns. The exposed newborns had more frequent respiratory distress, circulatory distress, hypothermia, and feeding problems than the newborns not exposed to psychiatric drugs. The exposed infants also had significantly lower scores on the Apgar scoring system used to assess newborns’ well-being immediately after birth. Mothers taking psychiatric drugs also were more than three times more likely to give birth prematurely.

“The increasingly frequent maternal drug treatment of depression and anxiety disorders in pregnancy results in an increasing number of neonates [newborns] requiring special neonatal therapy,” the researchers wrote, advising that newborns “should be continuously monitored for at least 24 hours.”

Other recent research has indicated that expectant mothers’ use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants during pregnancy may adversely affect the brain development in their children and increase the risk of certain birth defects and miscarriage.

Tapering and discontinuation of SSRIs before and during the early phase of pregnancy was advised in another recent study of withdrawal symptoms experienced by newborns born to mothers who had taken antidepressants during pregnancy. The newborns’ withdrawal symptoms included rapid breathing, respiratory distress, tremors, and lower blood sugar.

“Expectant mothers should have the risks to their babies from taking psychiatric drugs fully disclosed by their prescribers so they can make fully informed decisions about whether to take the drugs during pregnancy,” said Anne Goedeke, president of the CCHR National Affairs Office. “Anyone who wants to stop taking a psychiatric drug is cautioned to do so only under the supervision of a physician because of potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms.”