A new study of over 56,000 women found that those who purchased antidepressants at least twice during pregnancy had a 37% increased risk of speech and/or language disorder in their offspring compared to mothers who were not treated with antidepressants.

Researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and Columbia University Medical Center analyzed a sample of 845,345 live births between 1996 and 2010 from the national registries of Finland.

Mothers were categorized into three separate groups, those who purchased selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) once or more before or during pregnancy (15,596); those diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder one year before or during pregnancy but did not purchase an antidepressant (9,537); and those who didn’t purchase an antidepressant nor were given depression-related diagnoses (31,207). 

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Results showed a significant increase in risk of speech/language disorders in offspring in the SSRI-exposed group compared with the unmedicated and unexposed groups  (2 or more purchases vs unmedicated:  HR, 1.37; 95% CI, 1.11-1.70; P=.004; 2 or more purchases vs. unexposed:  HR, 1.63; 95% CI, 1.37-2.01; P<.001).

The researchers have no way of knowing if the purchased medications were taken, though Alan Brown, MD, MPH, professor at Mailman School of Public Health and Columbia said, “We believe that our findings […] are particularly meaningful because these women are more likely to have taken these medications, and more likely to have been exposed for a longer period and to larger amounts of the SSRI in pregnancy, compared to women who filled only one prescription.”

Outcome diagnoses were coded using ICD-10. The speech/language disorders included expressive and receptive language disorders and those involving articulation of sounds, however there was no evidence linking maternal SSRI exposure and academic or motor skill disorders in offspring.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the relationship between maternal antidepressant use and speech/language, scholastic, and motor disorders in offspring,” said Dr. Brown. The researchers called for further study to be conducted to confirm or deny their findings.

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