Antidepressant Use During Pregnancy Could Cause Language Disorders

According to a new study, antidepressant use during pregnancy could lead to language issues—including dyslexia—in offspring.

Pregnant woman taking antidepressants during pregnancy antoniodiaz/Shutterstock
We've heard plenty of conflicting news about antidepressant use during pregnancy. On the one hand, there's been plenty of reassuring evidence (some studies have found no significant risk for heart defects and birth defects). On the other hand, taking SSRIs during pregnancy has been linked to depression and autism in offspring in other studies. 

Here's another reason to think twice before taking antidepressants while you're pregnant: According to a new study from JAMA Psychiatry, women who take SSRI antidepressants during pregnancy may be putting their children at risk for language disorders.

Here's what the researchers found after examining national medical registries in Finland: Children of mothers who did not take antidepressants while pregnant had about a 1 percent chance of being born with a speech or language disorder—this risk increased to 1.37 percent in children of mothers who did take antidepressants while pregnant.

That difference might not seem particularly significant, but according to Alan Brown, M.D., a Columbia University professor and the study's lead author, it's worth noting. "When you have relative risks that are 1.37, they're considered to be low. But because so many people are exposed—6 percent to 10 percent of mothers are exposed (to antidepressants) throughout the world—it's increasing the public health burden," Dr. Brown said of the study's findings, according to CNN. "I don't think individuals have to worry about this, but I do think at the population level, it makes a very big difference."

The study's findings are not perfect. For one thing, researchers looked at purchase history of SSRIs, but there was no real way of knowing whether or not the mothers were actually taking the drugs. Additionally, the researchers looked at large databases to form these findings, and it's entirely possible that some disorders weren't accounted for in those records.

This is undoubtedly a complicated issue. SSRIs are the class of antidepressants most commonly prescribed to pregnant women—and for many women, not treating the symptoms of depression can be incredibly problematic. With that being said, language issues can produce long-lasting difficulties that can affect academic performance, professional development and more. Ultimately, it might just be a matter of weighing options and working with a doctor to develop the best course of treatment for each woman.