Research published in January 2012 has found a link between Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN) and pregnant women who took an SSRI antidepressant drug late in pregnancy. PPHN is a serious birth complication that can have a lasting impact on a baby’s development.
New research published in the British Medical Journal in January 2012 found that women who used an SSRI medication after the 20th week of pregnancy had twice the risk of having a baby with Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN). THe researchers analyzed data collected on 1.6 million women who had a baby within the last few years. Of these women, 30,000 used an antidepressant. 17,053 only used an antidepressant during the first two months after conception. 11,014 chose to use an antidepressant after the 20th week of pregnancy.
When the researchers looked for a link between antidepressants and PPHN, they found that the women who used an antidepressant late in pregnancy had a greater risk of having a baby with PPHN. In real numbers, this translates from 1.2 babies with PPHN per 1,000 live births to 2.1 babies with PPHN per 1,000 live births.
More research will need to be conducted to get a better idea why this occurs. It probably has something to do with the fact that SSRI antidepressants increase production of serotonin. Excess serotonin has been linked to problems with pulmonary vessels and the smooth muscles in the lungs. If excess serotonin builds up in an unborn baby’s lungs, this may contribute to the increased rate of PPHN.
The researchers stress that the data does not provide a conclusive link, and the risk of having a baby with PPHN is still small. Depression is also a serious, sometimes life-threatening illness. Women and their doctors must carefully consider the risks of untreated depression against the possibility of having a baby with a serious complication at birth.