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Depression medications may risk health of newborns

New Jersey residents will be interested to hear of a woman who was faced with the choice of whether or not to continue taking anti-depression medication after learning that she was pregnant with twins. She had a prescription for Zoloft, and if she stopped taking the drug, she felt she would have an especially difficult time dealing with the pregnancy. Knowing how bad her depression could be, she also feared she wouldn't be able to properly care for her newborns if she stopped taking the medication.

On the other hand, if she chose to continue taking Zoloft, she feared running the risk of her newborns' suffering from potential birth defects. Readers in the Cherry Hill area may be aware that untreated depression can actually lower a newborn's birth weight, as well as increase the chance of pre-eclampsia and maternal suicide. These issues point to how important it is for doctors to properly inform patients of the risks of taking or not taking certain medications.

Zoloft is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor -- an SSRI -- and a recent study shows that taking an SSRI during pregnancy could increase the risk of preterm birth and delayed fetal head growth. Generally, a mother who is being treated for depression must, with the help of her doctor, determine the least likely route for birth defects -- which means, in many cases, either taking or not taking an SSRI.

The study indicates that delayed fetal head growth could possibly be linked to psychiatric disorders and behavioral problems as the child grows up. But the authors of the study also say it is important "not to infer an association of SSRI use in pregnancy with future developmental problems."

The woman in this case chose to continue taking Zoloft. Without it, she said, her depression caused her to have an unhealthy, passive attitude regarding her pregnancy -- an attitude she felt would have been detrimental to her and her unborn babies. For her, the risk of such an approach to pregnancy, combined with the risk of birth defects resulting from depression, warranted her continuing to take Zoloft.

Still, the woman went into the hospital with a weakened cervix during her 22nd week of pregnancy. Even when doctors used drugs to stop premature birth, the woman delivered twin boys at 27 weeks. The twins are now three months old, and according to a letter from a high-risk neonatologist, they do not seem to have any lasting effects of prematurity.

The new mother said that was best news she ever could have gotten.

Source: ABC News, "Depression During Pregnancy: Weighing Risks, Benefits of SSRIs," Katie Moissie, March 5, 2012

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