The use of antidepressants in women during pregnancy was found to have some sort of effect resulting in birth defects.

Scientists from Canada and the United States analyzed women who have taken in antidepressants while they were pregnant. They found that although the risks are low, some antidepressants were linked to defects in babies upon birth.

The researchers put together gathered data and published their findings in the online journal BMJ.

According to the researchers, babies whose mothers had taken antidepressants at the time of pregnancy are almost four times more likely to have birth defects than those whose mothers were not exposed to the same sort of medication.

Because they are increasingly being used by pregnant women and those of reproductive age, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants were the main focus of the research.

The researchers based their findings on women who took citalopram, escitalopram, fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine or sertraline at least once between the month that led to conception and the end of the first trimester. The number of participants was made up of almost 18,000 mothers who gave birth to infants with birth defects and almost 10,000 mothers who had babies free of birth defects. Data were collected from 1997 to 2009.

The researchers said that in nine other reports of mothers who used SSRIs and whose infants were born with defects, no links were found. In a smaller number of two previously reported birth defects, they found that the use of fluoxetine treatment led to heart wall defects and an irregularity in the shape of the infant skull. The effects of paroxetine treatment were also seen in another five previously reported cases, where infants were born with heart defects, abdominal wall defects and brain and skull formation problems.

The study also found that paroxetine taken during the earlier months of pregnancy increases the risk for anencephaly to seven per 10,000. In addition, it increases the risk for a heart defect to 24 per 10,000.

"Whilst common, depression can be a potentially life-threatening illness," said University College London clinical psychiatry lecturer Dr. Michael Bloomfield. He stressed that decisions involving treatment in pregnancy should consider even the potential small risks of birth defects against the benefits of helping a mother overcome depression.

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