Do Antidepressants During Pregnancy Cause ADHD and Autism? Not According to This Study

A new study says that antidepressant use during early pregnancy won't up your odds of passing increased autism or ADHD risk to your baby.

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Antidepressant use during pregnancy has had a complicated research history. While some studies have linked antidepressant use to autism, others have contradicted this finding. And now, a new study published in the Journal of American Medicine also suggests there's no increased risk for autism or ADHD associated with antidepressant use during early pregnancy. 

The researchers from Indiana University acknowledge that these conditions have been associated with antidepressant use in the past, but stand by the idea that there's no significant link, only identifying a small risk for prematurity associated with antidepressant exposure.

The researchers studied a series of live births in Sweden from 1996 to 2012, incorporating data on antidepressant prescriptions—82 percent of which were selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, the most common type of antidepressants—autism/ADHD diagnoses and lifestyle factors (such as age and education level) of the parents. The researchers observed data from 1.5 million infants, making this one of the largest studies on this particular topic.

Researchers compared both siblings and non-related infants. Their findings indicate that when you compare children who are not related, the odds of prematurity, autism and ADHD all increase slightly—but this could be due to other factors as well, and when the researchers accounted for those factors among the parents they observed, their findings didn't suggest a relationship for autism or ADHD risk and antidepressant use

Surprisingly, antidepressant use among fathers and in mothers before pregnancy seemed to drive up risks, which suggests that family factors and genetics play a larger role in determining a child's risk than antidepressant use during the first trimester of pregnancy

"The ability to compare siblings who were differentially exposed to antidepressants in pregnancy is a major strength of this study. Most analyses rely upon statistical matching to control for differences in factors such as age, race and socioeconomic status," Brian D'Onofrio, a professor at Indiana University, said in the study's release. "Balancing the risks and benefits of using antidepressants during pregnancy is an extremely difficult decision that every woman should make in consultation with her doctor. However, this study suggests use of these medications while pregnant may be safer than previously thought."

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