Antidepressant use during pregnancy has been associated with a number of fetal and developmental complications and now, a new study has found that it can affect brain activity in newborns.
The researchers suggested that the effects of drugs on fetal brain function should be assessed more carefully, indications for preventive medication should be critically evaluated and non-pharmacological interventions should be the first-line treatment for depression and anxiety during pregnancy.
“We found many changes in the brain activity of SRI-exposed newborns,” said Sampsa Vanhatalo of the Helsinki University Children’s Hospital. “Since the changes did not correlate with the mother’s psychiatric symptoms, we have assumed that they resulted as a side effect of maternal drug treatment.”
The study is the first to examine the effects of SRI exposure directly on the brain activity of newborns. The research, involving 22 mothers using SRI medication and 62 controls without medication, aimed at assessing how fetal SRI drug exposure or maternal psychiatric symptoms affect newborns’ neurological development and their brains’ electrical activity.
Structured behavioral and neurological assessments of the newborns showed only minor effects from fetal SRI exposure; however, brain electrical activity exhibited several differences between the study groups.
The most important relate to less-organized communication between brain hemispheres, as well as weaker synchronization between cortical rhythms. These findings did not correlate with the scores on maternal depression or anxiety.
“We hope that our study will facilitate the current international discussion and search for effective alternatives in the treatment of depression and anxiety during pregnancy,” added Vanhatalo.