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June 24, 2016
There is now another reason to be concerned about the effects of antidepressant use, particularly if you’re pregnant. A new study out of the Helsinki University Children’s Hospital has uncovered a link between the use of antidepressants by pregnant women, and brain abnormalities in their newborns.
Unfortunately, 15 percent of pregnant women are believed to suffer from depression or anxiety, and around 5 percent of the babies born in the U.S. each year are believed to be exposed to antidepressants in the womb.
Researcher Sampsa Vanhatalo said: “We found many changes in the brain activity of SRI-exposed newborns. Since the changes did not correlate with the mother’s psychiatric symptoms, we have assumed that they resulted as a side effect of maternal drug treatment.”
The researchers are calling for more investigations into the effects of these drugs on fetal brain function. They emphasize the importance of choosing non-pharmacological interventions to treat anxiety and depression in pregnant women.
This study was the first one that directly studied SSRI exposure’s effects on newborn brain activity. It involved 22 mothers who were taking SSRI meds, and 62 controls who did not take any medication.
Some of the effects noted in the electrical activity in the brains of those who were exposed to SSRIs, include weaker synchronization between cortical rhythms, and lower levels of organization in the communication between brain hemispheres.
This study comes on the heels of another recent study that found permanent changes in the areas of the brain responsible for mood and cognition in the brains of mice whose mothers took SSRIs during pregnancy.
Antidepressant use during pregnancy linked to a number of risks
This finding joins a laundry list of other developmental and fetal complications that have already been linked to antidepressant use during pregnancy.
A study published in JAMA Pediatrics found a link between antidepressant use and the development of autism. In that study, University of Montreal researchers found that women who took SSRIs during their second and third trimester of pregnancy had twice the likelihood of giving birth to a baby who would go on to develop autism.
Autism is not the only issue mothers who take antidepressants might have to contend with as their children grow. Research from Canada’s McMaster University discovered that the use of SSRI antidepressants in pregnancy was correlated with obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic complications such as fatty liver in adult offspring.
Another potential risk associated with taking antidepressants during pregnancy is premature birth. A Danish study discovered that women who take SSRIs while pregnant have double the risk of giving birth prematurely than do women who do not take these drugs.
How can pregnant women deal with depression safely?
Even women who are not pregnant would do well to try alternative options for dealing with depression first, given the other serious side effects caused by antidepressants, including the tendency to commit suicide and carry out violent acts.
There are several methods that expectant mothers can use to cope with depression that do not have dangerous side effects for their unborn children. Some people are quick to dismiss alternative methods, but a study out of Johns Hopkins University actually found that meditation is every bit as effective as antidepressants in treating depression and anxiety. This is an excellent starting point for pregnant women, as it does not carry any potential risks.
In addition, eating the right foods can help, not only with depression, but also with giving your child the best start in life. This means eating organic fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Exercise and yoga can also help boost your mood, although pregnant women should use caution and avoid exercises that are too strenuous.
Spending some time outdoors connecting with nature is an often-overlooked yet effective method of dealing with depression. A Stanford University study found that people noted a decrease in negative self-talk after a 90-minute walk in nature, and brain scans actually showed less activity in the part of the brain that is active during the maladaptive thinking that is linked with depression.
The best news is that all of these approaches can bring about other benefits for your unborn child. Healthy eating means your baby won’t be exposed to the many toxins found in processed food, while getting more physical activity can boost your overall health.