A University of Montreal study reveals a connection between the use of antidepressants during pregnancy and the occurrence of autism. This study is called ‘Antidepressant Use During Pregnancy and the Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children’.
Details of the Study on Autism and Antidepressants
Factors in the Montreal study include defining specific trimesters of antidepressant use (2nd and third trimester) and the class of antidepressant used (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). The second and third trimester was specifically studied because it incorporates a critical stage of infant brain development. Exposure to antidepressants was defined as the mother having one or two prescriptions for SSRIs filled during the second or third trimester. Data was gathered from the Quebec Pregnancy/Children Cohort which catalogued information on every child born in Quebec from the 1st of January, 2009 through to the 31st of December, 2009. In total, data on 145,456 singleton infants was analysed between the 1st of October, 2014 through to the 30th of June, 2015.
Autism and Antidepressants: Conclusions from the Study
Prof. Anick Bérard is an expert in pharmaceutical safety during pregnancy and a professor at Montreal University. She and her colleagues have concluded that ‘taking antidepressants during the second or third trimester of pregnancy almost doubles the risk that the child will be diagnosed with autism by age 7’. One of reasons given by Prof. Bérard for the correlation between SSRIs and autism relates to the fact that this particular antidepressant functions by inhibiting serotonin. The inhibition of serotonin is believed to potentially prevent the brain from fully developing in utero, according to Prof. Bérard.
Between 2008 through to 2013, antidepressant prescriptions in England rose by 8.5 percent per year, according to figures from Public Health England’s National General Practice Profiles. The World Health Organisation predicts that depression will be the second leading cause of death in 2020. This data suggests that there will be a rise in the number of prescriptions given to women during pregnancy in England. Prof. Bérard concludes that the potential rise in prescriptions during pregnancy, combined with recent findings on a connection between autism and antidepressants highlight a need for further research on the outcome of taking SSRIs during pregnancy.