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Anti-depressants in pregnancy may cause malformations in baby

Toronto: Babies whose mothers take antidepressant medications for lowering their symptoms of depression during the first three months of pregnancy may be at an increased risk of developing malformations, defects in the heart and lungs, as well as in the eyes, ears, face and neck, researchers have warned.

The findings have showed the risk varies from six to 10 per cent in women who do not take the drugs from three to five per cent in those who take the medications.

Antidepressant use during the fist trimester has the potential to interfere with serotonin intake by the foetus, which can result in malformations.

“Serotonin during early pregnancy is essential for the development of all embryonic cells and thus any insult that disturbs the serotonin signalling process has the potential to result in a wide variety of malformations,” said Anick Berard, Professor at Universite de Montreal in Quebec in Canada.

Consumption of Citalopram in the first trimester was linked to 88 cases of malformations, as it increased the risk of major birth defects from five to eight per cent.

Similarly, use of Paxil (paroxetine) was associated with an increased risk of heart defects, venlafaxine (Effexor), with lung defects and tricyclic anti-depressants (such as Elavil), with increased eye, ear, face and neck defects.

Depression is globally on the rise and is a leading cause of death, according to World Health Organisation.

It is particularly serious during pregnancy and doctors are prescribing more anti-depressants than ever to expectant mothers.

“In pregnancy, you’re treating the mother but you’re worried about the unborn child and the benefit needs to outweigh the risk,” Berard added.

For the study, published in the British Medical Journal, the team looked at 18,487 depressed women, out of which about 20 per cent reported of taking anti-depressants.