Newborns face little risk of birth defects from antidepressants taken by many women early in pregnancy, according to two of the biggest studies.
The research focuses on the class of drugs chosen most often for depression and anxiety, including the brands Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft.
Paxil carries a warning of possible heart defects in newborns, and specialists don't expect the new research to change that. However, they find the studies comforting for women struggling with depression.
The possibility of birth defects from antidepressants has put doctors and patients in a quandary. Birth defects harm newborns, but depressed mothers who can't give proper care also endanger their babies.
Confusing matters, researchers have wondered whether the concern about birth defects should extend beyond Paxil to the entire class of drugs known as selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. The two latest studies, appearing today in The New England Journal of Medicine, relieve some of that worry, say birth specialists.
"Yeah, there's a risk, but the risk overall is probably pretty small," said Dr. Susan Ramin, obstetrics chairwoman at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, who was familiar with the findings.
The two studies -- one from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the other from Boston University -- use more cases of birth defects than previous research to consider links between the abnormalities and SSRIs.
The Boston University study was funded partly by the National Institutes of Health and Paxil maker
Together, the two studies looked at 19,471 newborns with birth defects and 9,952 without them. Then they considered what SSRIs the mothers in both groups took during the first three months of pregnancy and mapped the patterns of birth defects.
Neither study was able to tie SSRIs as a group to either heart defects or most other defects.
That reassurance is welcomed because depressed women fret even more than other mothers about the health of their newborns, said Dr. Stephan Quentzel, a psychiatrist who treats pregnant women at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.