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Could Antidepressants During Pregnancy Slow a Child's Motor Skills?

THURSDAY, June 21, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- Babies exposed to antidepressants during their mother's pregnancy may face a slightly higher chance of having problems with their motor skills, a new review suggests.

But the Australian researchers cautioned that more research is needed before firm conclusions can be made, since the studies they analyzed varied widely in the way they were carried out. Guidelines that advise pregnant women to balance the risks and benefits of antidepressant treatment remain unchanged, said study author Dr. Megan Galbally.

"It's unclear if the range of motor development observed would have any impact on a child's activities and daily life," said Galbally. She's a professor of perinatal psychiatry at Murdoch University in Perth. "This is a gap for future research," she added.

Between 8.5 percent and 11 percent of women experience depression during pregnancy, the study authors noted. Meanwhile, the rates of antidepressants prescribed to pregnant women rose four to 16 times higher over the last 10 to 15 years than recorded previously.

Left untreated, depression during pregnancy is linked with higher rates of problems such as premature birth, low birth weight and post-delivery complications, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Galbally and her team reviewed 18 prior studies evaluating infants or children after any antidepressant exposure during their mother's pregnancy. Two general types of studies were identified: those that used a parent or clinician report of motor development concerns in children; and those that used a standard test of motor development skills, such as running, jumping or grasping.

"When studies were limited to those that used a standardized test, there was no longer a significant association between motor outcomes for children and antidepressant exposure in pregnancy," she said.

But both the measure of motor development and age of children assessed varied greatly among studies, with most children evaluated between birth and 2 years of age.

"This suggests these findings need to be interpreted with caution and further future studies undertaken," Galbally said.

Dr. Shazia Bhat is director of neonatal education at Christiana Care Health System, in Wilmington, Del. She agreed it was difficult to draw a conclusion from the study about whether children's motor development is affected by their mother's antidepressant use, but "they certainly bring up findings that are concerning."

Antidepressants -- often a class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) -- could potentially affect infants' motor development "because serotonin is such a big part of brain development," said Bhat, who wasn't involved in the new research.

In her practice, Bhat commonly sees pregnant women who are taking antidepressants.

"I often get asked for my recommendation and I usually say we don't know exactly how it affects babies, but we do know that untreated depression has an effect on babies," she said.

"In the spirit of 'you can't take care of someone else until you take care of yourself,' a mom with uncontrolled depression can't take care of her baby as well as they'd like to," Bhat added.

The study was published online June 21 in the journal Pediatrics.

More information

The March of Dimes offers more on depression during pregnancy.

SOURCES: Megan Galbally, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., professor, perinatal psychiatry, Murdoch University, Perth, Australia; Shazia Bhat, M.D., neonatologist and director, neonatal education, Christiana Care Health System, Wilmington, Del.; June 21, 2018, Pediatrics, online

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