SSRI anti-depressant drugs and birth defects

by Charles Miller

New study looks at dangers of prescription drugs during pregnancy

The risk that a drug will cause malformations of an embryo or fetus is referred to as teratogenic risk.  Did you know that the teratogenic risk of more than 80% of 468 drugs released in the USA over the last 20 years remains to be clarified?*

Today, prescription drug use during pregnancy is extremely common, with 44–99% of women being prescribed medication during pregnancy. Pregnant women and their unborn children are obviously a vulnerable population.  Recent public health scares—for example H1N1— have only further underscored  the need for more detailed research into medication use in pregnancy. It is understood that maternal physiological changes during pregnancy can alter drug pharmacokinetics and that placental transfer of medications may have unknown fetal consequences. As a recent study of the situation concludes, there is an urgent need for further research into the adverse effects of drugs used in pregnancy.*

Drugs used to treat depression linked to birth defects

SSRI refers to a drug that is a “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor.”  SSRIs are often considered anti-depressants because they are primarily used to treat depression.  Six common name brand SSRIs are: Celexa (citalopram), Lexapro (escitalopram oxalate), Luvox (fluvoxamine), Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), and Zoloft (sertraline).  Unfortunately, studies show that these drugs are linked to birth defects.**

For example, one study (published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007) of nearly 10,000 infants born with birth defects and nearly 6,000 healthy infants found that women who took sertraline (Zoloft) in the first few months of pregnancy had twice the risk of having a baby born with a heart defect.  An earlier study  (2006) found that,  taken during the third trimester of pregnancy, Zoloft users are six times more likely to give birth to a child with persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN).

Other birth defects reportedly linked to SSRI use while pregnant include: club foot, oral cleft, craniosynostosis and developmental delays.

Pharmaceutical Liability Lawsuits Filed by Heygood, Orr & Pearson

If you are concerned about the impact that SSRIs or any prescription drug may have had on your child, please do not hesitate to contact us. You can reach us by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free case evaluation form.

Suggested further reading:

Use of selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors in pregnancy and the risk of birth defects, New England Journal of Medicine; 2007; 356:2684-92. Alwan S, Reefhuis J, Rasmussen SA, Olney RS, Friedman JM for the National Birth Defects Prevention Study.

Selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn, New England Journal of Medicine; 2006; 354:2188-2189. Reefhuis J, Rasmussen SA, Friedman JM.

Patterns of Antidepressant Medication Use Among Pregnant Women in a United States Population, Journal of Clinical Pharmacology; July, 2010. Alwan S, Reefhuis J, Rasmussen SA, Friedman JM, and the National Birth Defects Prevention Study.

Maternal use of bupropion and risk for congenital heart defects, American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology; July, 2010; 203(1):52.e1-6. Alwan S, Reefhuis J, Botto LD, Rasmussen SA, Correa A, Friedman JM, and the National Birth Defects Prevention Stud


* Melanie Chan, Ian C K Wong, Alastair Gordon Sutcliffe. (2012) Prescription drug use in pregnancy: more evidence of safety is needed. The Obstetrician & Gynaecologist 14:2, 87-92

** Deborah Kotz, Some Antidepressants Pose Birth Defect Risks, US News & World Report (june 2007), available online at:


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by Charles Miller

Charles Miller is a licensed attorney and a partner at Heygood, Orr & Pearson. Charles focuses his practice on areas of complex commercial litigation and personal injury litigation.