Autism – SSRI use during Pregnancy linked to ASD and Developmental Delays in Boys

Prenatal SSRI Use and Offspring With Autism Spectrum Disorder or Developmental Delay

JHU Public Health
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Together we’re Protecting Health, Saving Lives – Millions at a Time

In a study of nearly 1,000 mother-child pairs, researchers from the Bloomberg School of Public health found that prenatal exposure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a frequently prescribed treatment for depression, anxiety and other disorders, was associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and developmental delays (DD) in boys. The study analyzed data from large samples of ASD and DD cases, and population-based controls, where a uniform protocol was implemented to confirm ASD and DD diagnoses by trained clinicians using validated standardized instruments.


To examine associations between prenatal use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and the odds of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and other developmental delays (DDs).

A total of 966 mother-child pairs were evaluated (492 ASD, 154 DD, 320 typical development [TD]) from the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) Study, a population-based case-control study. Standardized measures confirmed developmental status. Interviews with biological mothers ascertained prenatal SSRI use, maternal mental health history, and sociodemographic information.

Overall, prevalence of prenatal SSRI exposure was lowest in TD children (3.4%) but did not differ significantly from ASD (5.9%) or DD (5.2%) children. Among boys, prenatal SSRI exposure was nearly 3 times as likely in children with ASD relative to TD (adjusted odds ratio [OR]: 2.91; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.07–7.93); the strongest association occurred with first-trimester exposure (OR: 3.22; 95% CI: 1.17–8.84). Exposure was also elevated among boys with DD (OR: 3.39; 95% CI: 0.98–11.75) and was strongest in the third trimester (OR: 4.98; 95% CI: 1.20–20.62). Findings were similar among mothers with an anxiety or mood disorder history.

In boys, prenatal exposure to SSRIs may increase susceptibility to ASD or DD. Findings from published studies on SSRIs and ASD continues to be inconsistent. Potential recall bias and residual confounding by indication are concerns. Larger samples are needed to replicate DD results. Because maternal depression itself carries risks for the fetus, the benefits of prenatal SSRI use should be carefully weighed against potential harms.

Sources and Study:
  • Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Researchers Find Association Between SSRI Use During Pregnancy and Autism and Developmental Delays in Boys, Johns Hopkins SPH, News Releases, April 15, 2014.
  • Prenatal SSRI Use and Offspring With Autism Spectrum Disorder or Developmental Delay, American Academy of Pediatrics, peds.2013-3406, April 09, 2014.
  • Antidepressant use in pregnancy linked to autism risk in boys: Study, CBC News, HEALTHDAY, April 14, 2014.

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