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Commonly Used Antidepressive Treatment During Pregnancy May Affect Brain Activity in Newborns, Study Shows

Jun 16, 2016 06:37 AM EDT
Changes in the Brain Activity
The present study in Helsinki is the first to examine the effects of SRI exposure directly on the brain activity of newborns. The study design aimed at distinguishing drug-related developmental effects from postnatal, environmental effects, such as potential changes in the mother-baby relationship due to maternal depression.
(Photo : S Vanhatalo / Univ. of Helsinki)

A new study revealed that the most commonly used antidepressive treatment during pregnancy may have a negative effect on the brain activities of newborn babies.

At present, antidepressive treatments such as Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor or SRI drugs has been approved and is commonly use to treat depression and anxiety during pregnancy. Researchers estimated that about 5 percent of all expecting mothers in the United States are using SRI medications.

However, previous studies have already pointed out possible side effects of SRI exposure to babies. These side-effects, known as "SRI Syndrome," include respiratory problems during the first days of life and increased risk of childhood depression.

Now, a new study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, showed for the first time that fetal SRI exposure can directly affect the brain activity of newborns.

"We found many changes in the brain activity of SRI-exposed newborns," said Professor Sampsa Vanhatalo, head of the BABA center at the Helsinki University Children's Hospital, in a statement. "Since the changes did not correlate with the mother's psychiatric symptoms, we have assumed that they resulted as a side effect of maternal drug treatment."

For the study, researchers enrolled 22 mothers who are taking SRI medications and 62 controls that are not under the medication. The researchers conducted structured behavioral and neurological assessments to determine how fetal SRI drug exposure or maternal psychiatric symptoms affect newborns' neurological development and their brains' electrical activity.

The researchers then discovered that newborns that were exposed to SRI drugs have less-organized communication between brain hemispheres and weaker synchronization between cortical rhythms.

With their findings, the researchers then suggest that the effects of SRI drugs on fetal brain function should be reviewed more carefully. The researchers also recommended critical evaluations for the indications of preventive medications, as well as the consideration of non-pharmacological interventions as the first-line of treatment for depression and anxiety during pregnancy.

"If the mother using an SRI plans a pregnancy, it would be advisable to consider a close follow-up or a therapeutic intervention without SRI medication. Recent experience with group therapy has shown promise in treating depression or anxiety during pregnancy, with effects that extend to the wellbeing of both mother and baby," explained Adjunct Professor Outi Mantere from McGill University, Canada and the psychiatric consultant for the study, in a press release.

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