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And now some reassuring news for women who take medication for depression and want to get pregnant. Research has suggested strong links between antidepressants and birth defects. But a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds certain antidepressants are safe, while others carry a small risk of producing birth defects. Here's NPR's Patti Neighmond.
PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: The findings of studies looking at antidepressants and birth defects are, to say the least, confusing. Some find no link. Some find lots of links. And the birth defects can be severe, including major deficits in brain and heart development that can result in infant death. CDC epidemiologist Jennita Reefhuis analyzed the data from more than 38,000 births over a 12-year period between 1997 and 2009.
JENNITA REEFHUIS: We actually asked these women after the baby was born whether they took any antidepressants during the first three months of pregnancy and the month before pregnancy.
NEIGHMOND: The study, published in The British Medical Journal, found no link between the most commonly used antidepressant, Zoloft - now available as a generic - and birth defects. However, among mothers who took Prozac or Paxil - also available as generics - there was risk, a three to five times increased risk of heart defects and brain defects. That may sound like a lot, but Reefhuis says the overall risk is still small. And for women who suffer depression and need medication, the take-home message is they have a choice.
REEFHUIS: If you're planning to get pregnant, it really is important to go talk to your health care provider so you can see if there are options and if you could choose a safer option among antidepressants. Of course, not all antidepressants work the same for everybody, so that's something that women need to consult with their health care provider about.
NEIGHMOND: Dr. Edward McCabe, chief medical officer for the March of Dimes Foundation, agrees that consulting with your health care provider is critical. And the increased risk among certain antidepressants, he says, should be seen in context.
EDWARD MCCABE: This paper showed that those that appear to be less safe do not show as high a risk of birth defects as some of the earlier reports showed. So that's also reassuring.
NEIGHMOND: With medical guidance, some women may try to wean themselves off antidepressants during pregnancy. Some may opt for group or individual talk therapy in the interim. Some may switch antidepressants. But in any case, McCabe cautions against just stopping medication suddenly. He says that can cause serious risk for the woman, including suicide, and if she's pregnant, even more risk than the medication itself for the developing fetus.
MCCABE: We know that stress is a problem for pregnancies. We know that increased stress can cause premature birth and low birth weight, so that a woman who is experiencing the stress of an uncontrolled depression may be putting her baby and her womb at significant risks.
NEIGHMOND: Bottom line, McCabe says, being on an antidepressant should not keep women from getting pregnant. They can be on a medication that's safe for their baby and also controls their depression. Patti Neighmond, NPR News.
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