Antidepressant use during pregnancy and psychiatric disorders in offspring

Danish nationwide register based cohort study, 2017

What is already known on this topic

  • Several studies have linked selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor use during pregnancy to autism spectrum disorder in offspring, although results have been conflicting
  • The potential explanation for this association is that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors cross the placental barrier and affect the development of the fetal brain
  • If this holds true, in utero exposure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor and other classes of antidepressants may increase risk for various psychiatric disorders besides autism spectrum disorder

What this study adds

  • Antidepressant use during pregnancy was associated with increased risk for various diagnostic groups of psychiatric disorders in offspring
  • The observed associations may be attributable to the severity of underlying maternal psychiatric disorders in combination with in utero antidepressant exposure

Study Abstract

To investigate the association between in utero exposure to antidepressants and risk of psychiatric disorders.

Population based cohort study.

Danish national registers.

905 383 liveborn singletons born during 1998-2012 in Denmark and followed from birth until July 2014, death, emigration, or date of first psychiatric diagnosis, whichever came first. The children were followed for a maximum of 16.5 years and contributed 8.1×106 person years at risk.

Exposures for observational studies
Children were categorised into four groups according to maternal antidepressant use within two years before and during pregnancy: unexposed, antidepressant discontinuation (use before but not during pregnancy), antidepressant continuation (use both before and during pregnancy), and new user (use only during pregnancy).

Main outcome measure
First psychiatric diagnosis in children, defined as first day of inpatient or outpatient treatment for psychiatric disorders. Hazard ratios of psychiatric disorders were estimated using Cox regression models.

Overall, psychiatric disorders were diagnosed in 32 400 children. The adjusted 15 year cumulative incidence of psychiatric disorders was 8.0% (95% confidence interval 7.9% to 8.2%) in the unexposed group, 11.5% (10.3% to 12.9%) in the antidepressant discontinuation group, 13.6% (11.3% to 16.3%) in the continuation group, and 14.5% (10.5% to 19.8%) in the new user group. The antidepressant continuation group had an increased risk of psychiatric disorders (hazard ratio 1.27, 1.17 to 1.38), compared with the discontinuation group.

In utero exposure to antidepressants was associated with increased risk of psychiatric disorders. The association may be attributable to the severity of underlying maternal disorders in combination with antidepressant exposure in utero. The findings suggest that focusing solely on a single psychiatric disorder among offspring in studies of in utero antidepressant exposure may be too restrictive.

  • Antidepressant use during pregnancy and psychiatric disorders in offspring: Danish nationwide register based cohort study, BMJ 2017;358:j3668, 06 September 2017.
  • Characteristics of study population according to maternal antidepressant use before and during pregnancy. Values are numbers (percentages) unless stated otherwise, featured image credit bmj.

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