According to a paper published by US academics in March 2014, pregnant women taking antidepressants are more likely to have their child prematurely.
If these findings are accurate, then that’s a concern because of the sheer number of people taking these kinds of drugs. A report published back in 2011 found that 23% of women in their 40s and 50s take antidepressants in the US. The figures are also rising among pregnant women too, with the authors reporting that the use of these drugs during pregnancy is on the up (rising to nearly 8% in the US, and up to 6% in Europe). Antidepressant usage during pregnancy quadrupled between 1992 and 2006 in the UK.
While this latest paper does find an increased risk, this doesn’t necessarily mean that women should stop taking antidepressant medication altogether. Lead author Krista Huybrechts from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School admits that pregnant women with depression need “proper treatment”. But where possible, the paper advocates alternatives to medication and consulting with a physician.
As with any academic research, this investigation raises almost as many questions as it does answers. The authors acknowledge that there is no clear indication as to whether it is the depression itself, or the drugs that women take to treat depression, that are the root cause of a premature birth. And without greater knowledge of both, uncertainty prevails for both pregnant women and their healthcare providers. Indeed, the authors call for a randomized controlled trial to dig deeper and see if there’s a link between antidepressant medication and premature births.