(Health Secrets) Exposure to certain types of antidepressants in the womb during the first trimester of pregnancy can increase the risk of a child being born with a septal heart defect, according to Danish research. The antidepressants in question are selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, known as SSRIs, which are regularly prescribed to treat depression in pregnant women.
Although the risk to the baby is still relatively small, women are being urged to seek alternative treatments for depression if they are trying to conceive or if they suspect they may be pregnant.
Study shows four fold increase in risk with multiple antidepressants
The medical records of over 400,000 children in Denmark were analyzed at Aarhus University to see whether there was a trend between SSRIs taken during pregnancy and septal heart defect. A septal heart defect is a condition where the tissue wall that separates the two chambers of the heart is damaged.
Although the increased risk was only 0.4% higher when one SSRI was used, the risk increased by 1.6% when two types of SSRIs were used, which is a common practice. Put simply, of 1000 newborn children, 5 would have a septal heart defect without exposure to an SSRI, 9 would have a septal heart defect if they were exposed to one SSRI, and 21 would have the same condition if exposed to two types of SSRI.
Warnings have already been issued by the FDA about the use of paroxetine, a common SSRI, during pregnancy, as it is thought to cause birth defects. However, this study found that in the case of heart defects, the two main culprits were the SSRIs sertraline (Zoloft) and citalopram (Celexa), rather than paroxetine or fluoxetine.
The first trimester of pregnancy appears to be the danger period, when taking SSRIs can increase risk of the baby developing a septal heart defect. This part of the pregnancy is defined as 28 days before conception, and 112 days afterwards.
Alternative treatments for pregnancy depression
While the baby blues tend to be associated with post natal women, there is actually a huge number of women who suffer from depression during pregnancy, largely due to normal hormonal changes. Feeling depressed at this time can be especially hard to handle because women are led to believe that pregnancy should be a happy and joyful time, and they may feel guilty about feeling down.
Between 10% and 20% of pregnant women suffer from depression at some point, but there are alternatives to taking antidepressants which should always be explored, and which will provide relief in the majority of cases without presenting a health risk to the baby.
Lifestyle changes are the simplest answer to pregnancy associated depression, and finding time to relax is one of the most important. With many women now working right up until their due dates and trying to get everything ready for baby’s arrival at the same time, they often miss out on the valuable ‘me time’ that is essential for a woman about to give birth.
Exercise is another natural way to beat the baby blues. While starting a new exercise regime during pregnancy isn’t advised, a brisk walk, a swim, or an antenatal exercise class three times a week can help to fight pregnancy depression.
Just talking about how they are feeling can be a way to help pregnant women fight depression safely, and opening up to their partner or a friend or relative is the first step. They could also consider individual counseling or group therapy, and obstetricians should be able to make a recommendation.
There are many herbal remedies or dietary supplements that can help with depression during pregnancy. The most commonly used is St John’s Wort. Herbal remedies should not be mixed with antidepressants or other medications.
Natural remedies reduce risk for baby
Although the risk of a baby developing a septal heart defect due to the use of SSRIs is not that high, it is significant, and every mother wants to put the health of her baby first. Making lifestyle changes and finding natural remedies are safer ways to treat depression than using antidepressants, and will result in a greater chance of having a healthy baby.