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Pristiq and Birth Defects


The medication Pristiq (desvenlafaxine) belongs to the SNRI (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor) class of antidepressants. It has been associated with an increased risk of birth defects, low fetal birth weight, and life-threatening complications at birth.

The FDA classifies this medication as a “Pregnancy Category C” drug, which means that it should only be prescribed to a pregnant woman if the benefits outweigh any potential risk.

Pristiq and Effexor

Pristiq (desvenlafaxine) is very similar to another antidepressant, Effexor (venlafaxine). Both were created by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, now owned by Pfizer. The active ingredient in Effexor, venlafaxine, is metabolized by the body and becomes desvenlafaxine. A few years before the patent on Effexor expired, the drug manufacturer created Pristiq, which contains the active ingredient desvenlafaxine. Both Pristiq and Effexor have similar effects.

Pristiq and Pregnancy

According to the manufacturer’s warnings and precautions for Pristiq, no adequate and well-controlled studies have been conducted of Pristiq in pregnant women. Therefore, Pristiq should only be prescribed when the benefits of treating depression outweigh the risks to an infant.

The FDA classifies Pristiq as a Pregnancy Category C drug. This means that doctors may still prescribe Pristiq to a pregnant women, despite the possible increased risk of birth defects. It is unknown whether Pristiq is associated with birth defects in humans. However, studies of Pristiq in rabbits and rats have found increased risks of low fetal birth weight and fetal death of unknown cause.

The active ingredients in Pristiq are known to pass through breast-milk, and the drug could potentially harm a nursing infant.

Pristiq Complications at Birth

Pristiq and other antidepressants have been associated with many life-threatening complications for a newborn, especially in the baby’s first few days of life. According to the manufacturer’s warnings and precautions:

“Neonates exposed to SNRIs (Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors), or SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), late in the third trimester have developed complications requiring prolonged hospitalization, respiratory support, and tube feeding. Such complications can arise immediately upon delivery.”

These complications may include:

  • Respiratory distress
  • Low oxygen, blue skin (cyanosis)
  • Apnea (no breathing)
  • Seizures
  • Temperature instability
  • Feeding difficulty
  • Vomiting
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Hypotonia
  • Hypertonia (muscle stiffness)
  • Hyperreflexia (overactive reflexes, twitches)
  • Tremor
  • Jitteriness
  • Irritability
  • Constant crying


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