Danish research and SSRI use during pregnancy

An article at medpage.com heralds a new study released September 25, 2009 by Danish researchers. The article carries the sensationalized title “SSRIs in Pregnancy Hike Risk of Heart Defects.”

While the title itself raises eyebrows, the researchers themselves state that they were unable to conclude if the results were because of medication or the underlying depression. Also important to keep in mind is that this research is based on women who had prescriptions filled for SSRIs but does not appear to have checked to see if these women actually took the medication. Instead, they rely on data from a national registry.

Pedersen and colleagues analyzed national registry data on more than 493,000 births in Denmark from 1996 to 2003. The data included prescriptions filled by mothers-to-be as well as the medical status of their babies at birth.”

And directly from the study:

Our results, however, depend on a correlation between redemptions of prescriptions and drug use. Non-compliance might be a problem for this type of exposure definition and could mask true associations if some of the “exposed” were in fact unexposed.

The most interesting piece to come out of this research is that of the studied SSRI’s, Paxil appeared to have the least risk of septal heart defects. I find this very interesting considering that Paxil is the only SSRI to currently carry a heart defect specific warning.

As with all studies and research, you should always examine all sides and aspects and educate yourself rather than relying on the word of others when making your final decision. Ask yourself if the person presenting the information has your best interest at heart or is merely trying to frighten you with inflated facts and figures. (Click here to read a previous post full of tips on how to find solid medical advice on the web.)

Dr. Shoshana Bennett, author of “Pregnant on Prozac” released this statement regarding this research:

Finally, treatment for the serious and potentially life-threatening illness of prenatal depression (for both mom and therefore baby) is being formally discussed. Fifteen percent of clinically depressed pregnant women try to take their lives – a bit more risky for the baby than mom taking an antidepressant, wouldn’t you say? If the pregnant woman can be non-depressed without a medication, that’s optimal. Some form(s) of treatment, however is essential. If natural and alternative approaches to wellness are not enough, it is regarded by those in the know to be safer for her (and her developing baby) to take an antidepressant than to remain depressed. Depression itself – it is quite clear from the research – crosses the placenta and alters the uterine environment causing negative consequences to the baby. In the latest research there appears to be low (0.9%) chance of a septal heart defect in babies whose mothers had taken certain antidepressants. However, what fear-mongers do not report, is that the researchers themselves could not be sure whether it’s the antidepressant or the underlying depression itself that caused the defect. Women need all relevant information and education about options for treatment during pregnancy so they can make the best decision for themselves and their family. Watch out for alarmists who are not interested in actual data – they are simply invested in promoting fear in women who are at their most vulnerable.

Shoshana Bennett, Ph.D.


Increased risk was determined by “redemption” of more than one SSRI prescription. Those who redeemed more than one prescription had infants with a higher percentage of septal heart defects. But again this begets the question of whether or not this result lay with the SSRI or the underlying depression/mental illness/stress the mother may have been experiencing in order to receive said prescription.

Bottom line here: Don’t think for a second that becoming a Mom starts at birth. It starts at conception. And we owe ourselves AND our infants the best start possible. This means researching by asking questions and seeking out solid answers. It means finding physicians who will be your co-pilot instead of an uncooperative Auto-Pilot unaware of the pot-holes facing them. It means putting together the best support you can with what you have access to at the time. I happen to agree that a SSRI free pregnancy is absolutely optimal. I also think you should run (not walk) out of any doctor’s office if said doctor is quicker with the script pad than the warm shoulder. But we have to remember that every situation is different. Every person is different and every pregnancy is different. And sometimes we may just have to take medication. It doesn’t make you weaker, it doesn’t make you stupid, and it doesn’t make you a bad mom. And above all, remember that the decision to take or not to take a SSRI during pregnancy is your decision. Make it with an empowered spirit, stick to it, and don’t look back.

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