Many women are cautious about using antidepressants during pregnancy because of numerous reports about its side effects on the babies.

Earlier studies, for instance, have suggested that using some antidepressants particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) increases risks of having babies with birth defects when taken during the first trimester.

Another study likewise suggests that the drugs can raise the chances of the child getting diagnosed with autism by the time he or she reaches the age of 7.

Findings of a new research, however, may help appease concerns of pregnant women who need to take the medication to treat depression.

For the study, Irene Petersen, from the University College London, and colleagues looked at the data of more than 209,000 pairs of women and their children.

They observed that the risk of having babies with a heart defect was higher among women who were older and obese, and much higher in those diagnosed with diabetes or have drug and alcohol problems, factors that were found common in women who used antidepressants.

Other earlier studies that looked into the link have not taken into account the risk factors that could cause birth defects. In this new study, the researchers found no significant differences between the participants who were taking the antidepressants and those who were not taking them.

The researchers urged doctors to inform women of other risk factors that could contribute to the likelihood of women having children with heart defects.

"Our research adds to the ongoing debate on whether these drugs cause congenital heart anomalies, and we have found no evidence to any such effect," Petersen said. "Health care professionals should counsel women on other risks contributing to congenital heart anomalies in children such as age, weight, diabetes, alcohol problems and illicit drug use

About 70 percent of pregnant women in the U.S. stop using antidepressants during their pregnancy and this often leads to recurrence of depression and may have other unwanted consequences.

The researchers said that risks of depression-related problems during pregnancy should outweigh risks towards children and advised women to consider the pros and cons before they stop using antidepressants when they get pregnant.

The research was published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry on Jan. 27.

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