Antidepressants in pregnancy 'linked to autism'
Autism-antidepressant link found in study makes Janine Dunlop extremely uneasy.

A recent study has linked antidepressant use during pregnancy to autism in children.

Studies like this make me nervous. Firstly, they report dispassionately on something that will have an enormous impact on people’s lives. That’s their job, I know, but yet… What are women to do with this information? Those who are thinking of getting pregnant and those who are pregnant already and are taking antidepressants have a hard choice to make when they read these findings. And those who took antidepressants during their pregnancy? What should they do with this information but feel powerless and guilty?

More research needed

A New York Times report on the study says that this is the second finding in two years to discover the same link, but calls the approach of both studies “cautious”. The link is not conclusively with the medication and could be with the depression that is being treated. The authors of the study suggest further research, because the link is not clear: “Whether this association [with antidepressants] is causal or reflects the risk of autism with severe depression during pregnancy requires further research,” they warn.

Whether or not the link is clear, doctors are surely now faced with a dilemma: advise against antidepressants and risk depression in pregnant mothers, or advise that antidepressants be taken during pregnancy and risk autism in babies.

The months after having my daughter are a blur to me: I don’t remember key milestones in her life. I decided, with the help of a psychiatrist, to start taking antidepressants. Within a month or two, the meds helped to clear the fog.

A depressing decision

When I fell pregnant with my son a year later, I was faced with the possibility of going off the medication. My doctor gave me two options: wean myself off the medication, or continue to take it. His advice to me was that, according to most studies at the time, antidepressants are safe during pregnancy, and that the effects of depression were I to come off the meds would be worse than taking them in the first place. It wasn’t an easy decision. I didn’t want to relive the kind of depression I experienced just after my daughter was born, and I didn’t want to put my current baby at risk through exposure to medication in utero. My doctor provided no guarantees and made it clear that the choice was mine to make. I chose to keep taking the medication.

The current study says that doctors should “consider weighing the wider risks of untreated depression with the other adverse outcomes related to antidepressant use.” But, as with any study, there are those who disagree, according to the New York Times report. Some say that animal studies have shown changes in the brain “that mimic autism” and that therefore there is no question that antidepressant usage during pregnancy is risky.

I gave birth to a healthy baby boy who suffered no adverse effects despite being exposed to antidepressants in the womb. Was I just lucky? What are other women to do now that this link has been revealed? Are those who suffer from depression excluded from pregnancy because of the risks involved with taking medication for their illness?

It seems there are no easy answers.

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

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