Antidepressants During Pregnancy Increase Risk of Autism up to 87 Percent

The National Institute of Mental Health tells us that anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States aged 18 and older. Often, people who suffer with anxiety disorders also struggle with depression.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) impacts approximately 6.8 million adults, or just over three percent of the U.S. population. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression.

Depression during pregnancy 

It was once thought that pregnancy hormones protected women from depression, but now research indicates this is not so. On the contrary, pregnancy can actually trigger a wide range of emotions that can make it difficult to cope with depression. 

According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, between 14 and 23 percent of women suffer some form of depression while pregnant. With this in mind, treating depression during pregnancy is critical, but also tricky.

The first question one must ask is whether or not conventional treatment for depression, which is generally an antidepressant medication of some kind, is safe during pregnancy. This decision is one that cannot be made lightly as there are always risks when you take medication, and these are only heightened during pregnancy.

Autism risk is increased when mothers use SSRIs while pregnant

Yesterday, a news story published in Newsweek reported on a recent study which revealed that taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) during pregnancy can increase a child’s risk for autism significantly. 

Researchers found that women who took SSRIs during pregnancy increased their child’s risk of autism by up to 87 percent. The study specifically looked at the dangers associated with taking the medications during the second and third trimester of pregnancy, where the impact seems much greater than during the first trimester.

Depression forecasted to be the second leading cause of death by 2020 

According to study leaders, rates of depression are on the rise, and it is projected that depression will be the second leading cause of death in 2020. This means the use of antidepressant drugs will remain high, even during pregnancy. It is therefore imperative that we take a closer look at the impact these drugs have on the long-term neurodevelopment of children.

Autism is on the rise

The number of children being diagnosed with autism is also on the rise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that one in 150 eight-year-olds in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This is compared to the 1970s and 1980s when it is thought that one in 2,000 children of the same age suffered from an ASD.

Although one could speculate that we are just more aware of this condition now, it does appear that the number of children with an ASD is rising sharply. 

A warning

The finding in the recent study conducted at the University of Montreal sends a clear warning to health professionals and women suffering with depression. Although the exact reason for the association between antidepressant drugs and autism risk has not be confirmed, there clearly is a risk that should not be ignored.

Of course, it is not easy for someone who is taking an SSRI to stop if they have been taking the drug for some time and are clinically depressed. It is an issue that needs special attention, for sure. Going off medication can be very detrimental to health and is not something that can be done without close medical supervision. 

Natural ways to manage depression during pregnancy

There are a number of nondrug things you can do to manage mild depression.

antidepressantsandpregnancy_640x359Exercise: Exercise releases neurotransmitters and endorphins in the brain, which in turn, elevates mood. It also reduces immune system chemicals that can make depression worse and has a calming effect overall.

Acupuncture:  Researchers have found that acupuncture can help alleviate symptoms of depression. In 2010, researchers at Stanford School of Medicine found that acupuncture reduced depression symptoms in pregnant women who were diagnosed as being at risk of major depressive disorder.

Psychotherapy: This type of therapy may involve interpersonal therapy to help reduce relationship strain and cognitive-behavioral therapy to reduce pessimistic thoughts.

Support groups: Depression support groups help to improve self-esteem and reduce anxiety. Just having someone to talk to can make a tremendous difference when you are feeling sad and anxious. 

If you or someone you know suffers from depression, it is critical to seek help. If you are pregnant and depressed, be sure to discuss alternatives to antidepressant drugs with your health-care practitioner.

—Susan Patterson

Susan is the Content Director at The Alternative Daily, a Certified Health Coach, Certified Metabolic Typing Advisor and Master Gardener. With an extensive knowledge of whole foods and wellness, Susan enjoys educating others on how to live healthy and sustainable lives. She presently lives off grid in the middle of the New Mexican high desert with her three children and numerous animals.



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