Mama's Meds and Her Baby's Lungs

Antidepressant exposure in utero linked to increased drug use for pulmonary disease

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Pregnancy is an emotional time. As such, depression is a common problem during and after pregnancy. When pregnant women take depression medications, there can still be risks for their unborn children.

Children who were exposed to certain antidepressant medications in the womb might be more likely to need medications for lung diseases.

"Be careful what you put in your body when pregnant."

Some studies have suggested a link between being exposed to antidepressant medications in the womb and a risk of pulmonary diseases like asthma later in life, said Gert J. ter Horst, PhD, of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, and colleagues in their study.

More specifically, two types of depression medications - serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) - are thought to affect the development and function of the fetal respiratory tract.

Dr. ter Horst and colleagues wanted to see if in utero (in the womb) exposure to depression medications might lead to a greater use of medications for pulmonary diseases later in life.

They found that children exposed to SSRIs in the womb may be more likely to use medications for pulmonary diseases, especially if they were exposed in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Children exposed to SSRIs in the womb had an increased incidence risk ratio of 1.17 for the use of medications for pulmonary diseases if they were exposed at any point during pregnancy.

Those exposed to SSRIs in the first trimester had an increased incidence risk ratio of 1.18 for the use of medications for pulmonary diseases.

Children exposed to TCAs also had an increased incidence risk ratio for the use of medications for pulmonary diseases. However, the researchers said this increased risk was not statistically significant.

The authors said that their study population was rather small. Also, they did not account for mothers who smoked - something that could also affect lung development in children.

"The increase in the use of drugs for pulmonary disease may also be related to other factors," the authors said.

"Therefore, further study is recommended," they concluded.

Pregnant women should discuss with their doctor whether they should stay on antidepressant medications while pregnant or if they should stop taking them. For many women, the benefits of staying on antidepressant medications may be worth the risks.

For their research, Dr. ter Horst and colleagues studied 35,546 children from 23,576 mothers. Exposure to antidepressants was measured for all three trimesters of pregnancy.

The study was published July 20 in the European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 25, 2012
Last Updated:
April 22, 2013