More than 1 in 10 women become depressed during pregnancy. In cases where doctors recommend drug treatment, the first choice is often a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). But Doctors are advised that pregnant women should take SSRIs "only if potential benefit outweighs risk".
A new study has looked at 329 women who were taking SSRIs while pregnant. The health of their babies was compared with the health of babies born to women not taking antidepressants. Some of the women in this latter group had mental health problems, while others did not.
Women taking an SSRI had twice the risk of a premature birth. On average, women gave birth four or five days sooner if they took an SSRI while pregnant.But the results don't tell us the actual numbers of women in each group who gave birth prematurely, so we can't say what the actual risk is.
About 16 in 100 babies needed treatment in an intensive care unit if their mother had taken an SSRI, compared with 7 in 100 babies whose mothers were healthy, and 9 in 100 babies whose mothers had a mental health problem but who weren't taking an SSRI.
Babies also appeared less healthy overall if their mother had taken an SSRI. This was measured looking at their skin colour, how much they moved about, their pulse rate and breathing, and how much they responded to stimulation.
SSRIs didn't increase the risk of having an underweight baby. The study only looked at what happened around birth, so we don't know whether or not SSRIs have longer-term consequences.