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Antidepressants During Pregnancy Pose Low Risk To Unborn Baby, Study Finds

BOSTON (CBS) -- In 2006, the FDA warned the public that the use of common antidepressants, like Prozac and Paxil, late in pregnancy could put a baby at risk for respiratory failure.  But a new study from a local hospital shows that risk may not really exist.

The FDA advisory pointed to a single study showing a six-fold increased risk of a condition called persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn in women taking antidepressants. But a new large-scale study says the risk is negligible.

Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital looked at 3.8 million pregnant women nationwide and found that those taking popular antidepressants, called SSRIs, did not appear to be at significantly increased risk of having a baby with pulmonary hypertension.

"The risk increase of taking antidepressants late in pregnancy, if present, is much more modest than previous studies have found," says Krista Huybrechts, PhD, an epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

"So for women with severe debilitating depression that is not responsive to other non-pharmacological treatments," Huybrechts adds, "This should be reassuring information."

It's certainly reassuring news for Dr. Katherine Economy, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at the Brigham who cares for many pregnant women on antidepressants.

"They take them because they have a disease that impacts their daily life," says Dr. Economy.

"And for many women they cannot get through their daily activities, getting out of bed, taking a shower, and preparing food for themselves so for many of these women, these medications are life-saving and life-altering," she said

Dr. Economy warns patients about the potential risks like withdrawal in the newborn and a small risk of heart defects, but says for many women, the worst time to stop their medications is at the end of pregnancy when postpartum depression becomes a concern.

"My basic message," says Dr. Economy, "Is that overall there may be some slight risks associated with the medication, but in balancing risks and benefits for most women, I would suggest they stay on their medication."

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