Study says anti-depressants during pregnancy may increase autism risk

A preliminary study draws a link between the most widely prescribed anti-depressants and an increased risk of autism in children.

As far as a year before delivery, the study looks at prenatal exposure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, and Lexapro.

It found that the "use of antidepressant medications during pregnancy also shows a secular increase in recent decades, prompting concerns that prenatal exposure may contribute to increased risk of asd [autism spectrum disorder]."

It's a risk that Dr. Mathew Biel, who specializes in autism treatment at Georgetown University Hospital, says has to be weighed against the dangerous alternative.

“Trying to balance this risk … what looks like a very small, but real risk of increased rate of autism, again very small, against the risk of leaving depression untreated and all of the negative consequences for the mother and her offspring,” is the challenge facing doctors and patients, he said.

Biel says leaving depression or bipolar disorder untreated in pregnant women can be deadly for mom and baby. Biel says the study is intriguing and deserves the attention of a follow up.

While the study doesn't paint a clear picture of why exactly these drugs might trigger an autism diagnosis, Biel says it's another reason for mothers-to-be to watch what they're exposed to during pregnancy.

“It includes sicknesses the mother might have it includes stress on the mom, it includes toxins from the environment which is something many people are interested in, and it also includes medications the mother might take,” Biel said.

Not taking medication may not be an option for some mothers.

“Without the medication I wouldn't be in a place to even consider having kids,” said 19-year-old Megan Newman.

Having been on the generic brand of Celexa for three years now, Newman says her mental health will continue to come first.

“I've heard that if the father's over 50 and all kinds of crazy things they think lead to autism so it doesn't really surprise me that they would eventually link this to it seeing as how so many people are on antidepressants this day in age,” Newman said.

Biel recommends women work with their doctors to find alternatives to antidepressants, not stop taking their medication on their own.