What Birth Defects Do Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors Cause?

    selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors

    Pregnancy and depression has long been under study, due to its potentially adverse affects on a developing baby. For decades, doctors speculated that while using antidepressants during pregnancy is controversial, it’s generally far safer than depression itself. Recent studies suggest otherwise, however, regarding one class of antidepressants: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.

    Taking Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors During Pregnancy

    SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, include Celexa, Prozac and Zoloft. While most are still cleared by the FDA for pregnant use, many studies suggest they’re far from safe. They work by keeping levels of serotonin higher in the body, and while this is safe for an adult, it’s not as safe for a developing baby. The drug crosses the placental barrier and can cause a wide range of developmental problems.

    These effects are unfortunately not only limited to women taking SSRIs during pregnancy, but women taking them before pregnancy, as well. While some resulting birth defects can be fixed, some, such as autism and organ damage, become permanent problems for the baby after it’s born. In some cases, the birth defects result in death.

    SSRI Birth Defects

    Babies born exposed to antidepressants can have a multitude of physical and psychological birth defects. Heart defects are just one potentially life-threatening example. When taken during the first trimester, holes in the heart’s walls can form, causing lifelong circulation problems.

    Persistent pulmonary hypertension is another birth defect associated with SSRI usage. It occurs when a newborn baby doesn’t adapt to breathing outside of the womb the right way, and most babies who suffer from it need to spend time in an intensive care unit. While some babies eventually acclimate to proper breathing, some suffer permanent and severe organ damage or death.

    Unfortunately, SSRIs taken right before and during pregnancy can cause additional problems. Malformation of the brain is a defect that usually causes a baby to die immediately after birth. Some babies are born with a cleft lift or palate, while some have low birth weight, breathing problems, medication withdrawal or hyperactivity. One study suggests that the risk of these defects is greater when the baby is exposed to the drugs early on.

    If you’re currently pregnant, don’t stop taking your SSRI without first speaking with your doctor. It can be very dangerous for both you and your baby.

    What You Can Do

    If you or someone you know took SSRIs during pregnancy and your baby has birth defects, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit. It’s a good idea to speak with an attorney who is familiar with mass torts of this nature, as he or she can help you review your claim and answer any questions you might have.

    1. “FDA Drug Safety Communication: Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) Antidepressant Use during Pregnancy and Reports of a Rare Heart and Lung Condition in Newborn Babies.” FDA Drug Safety Communication: Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) Antidepressant Use during Pregnancy and Reports of a Rare Heart and Lung Condition in Newborn Babies. December 14, 2011.

    2. “More Evidence SSRIs in Pregnancy Boost Birth Defect Risk.” Medscape. June 28, 2011. Accessed March 13, 2015.

    3. “Antidepressants: Safe during Pregnancy?” Pregnancy Week by Week.

    Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity,, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.

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