Q: Will my taking antidepressants during pregnancy harm the fetus?
A: It's possible. Researchers have found evidence that prenatal use of at least one antidepressant--Paxil--increases the risk of congenital heart malformation. Other studies have found associations between late-pregnancy use of antidepressants and short-term complications in newborns, including jitteriness and respiratory distress. But not treating a mother's severe depression can also harm the fetus. Recent research indicates that babies of women with untreated "major" depression are born too early and have elevated stress hormones and poorer motor skills and muscle tone compared with those born to women who are not depressed. Most experts agree that choice of treatment during pregnancy depends on individual need. "Women with histories of severe, disabling depression should consult physicians with expertise in [prenatal and postpartum] mood disorders," advises Vivien Burt, M.D., Ph.D., professor emeritus of clinical psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles.