The use of antidepressants during pregnancy increases the risk of your child being diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder later in life, however, researchers say heritability also plays a part

Between two and eight percent of pregnant women are on antidepressants.

The researchers, headed by Xiaoqin Liu, have applied register-based research to the study of 905 383 children born between 1998 and 2012 with the aim of exploring the possible adverse effects of the mother’s use of antidepressants during her pregnancy.

They found that out of the 905 383 children in total, 32 400 developed a psychiatric disorder later in life. Some of these children were born to mothers who were on antidepressants during their pregnancy, while other children had not been exposed to medication.

Children divided into four groups

The children were divided into four groups, depending on the mother’s use of antidepressants before and during pregnancy:

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  • Group 1: The children not been exposed to antidepressants in the womb
  • Group 2: Mothers had been taking antidepressants up until the pregnancy, but not during
  • Group 3: Mothers were using antidepressants both before and during the pregnancy
  • Group 4: Mothers were new users of antidepressants and had started taking the medication during the pregnancy

Approximately twice as many children were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder in group 4 (14,5%) than in group 1 (8%). In groups 2 and 3 respectively, 11,5% and 13,6% were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder at age 16.

Even though there is an increased risk of the child developing a psychiatric disorder later in life, our research shows that we cannot blame medication alone.

Psychiatric disorders can be hereditary

In their analyses, the researchers took into account that heritability also plays a part in determining who will be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, and that it is not just a question of being exposed to antidepressants in the womb.

“We chose to conduct the study on the assumption that psychiatric disorders are highly heritable. For this reason, we wanted to show that is too narrow if you only look at autism, which is what many previous studies have done. If heritability plays a part, other psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, ADHD-like symptoms would also appear in the data,” says Trine Munk-Olsen, who is also one of the researchers behind the study.

Indeed, the study also shows that the increase covers not only autism but also other psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety and ADHD. Thus it becomes clear that the mother’s underlying psychiatric disorder matters in relation to the child’s mental health later in life. At the same time, it cannot be ruled out that the use of antidepressants further increases the risk of psychiatric diseases in the child.

Don’t feel guilty about taking antidepressants

“Our research shows that medication seems to increase the risk, but that heritability also plays a part,” says Trine Munk-Olsen, who also points out that it might be the mothers who suffer from the most severe forms of depression who need to take medication during their pregnancy.

The most important message is that we ensure and safeguard the mental well-being of the pregnant women, and for some women, this involves the use of antidepressants.

“These women should not feel guilty about taking antidepressants. Even though there is an increased risk of the child developing a psychiatric disorder later in life, our research shows that we cannot blame medication alone. Heritability also plays a part,” says Trine Munk-Olsen.

Source: Aarhus University via www.sciencedaily.com

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