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Moms' Antidepressants May Affect Babies' Head Size: Study
Date:3/5/2012

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, March 5 (HealthDay News) -- Pregnant women taking certain antidepressants may be more likely to deliver infants with reduced head growth, a new study suggests.

The researchers also found that although selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Paxil and Prozac relieved depression in these women, they appeared to be associated with a higher risk of preterm birth.

"Fetal body growth is a marker of fetal health and fetal head growth is a marker for brain development," said lead researcher Hanan El Marroun, a postdoctorate fellow in the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at Sophia Children's Hospital and Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. "We found prenatal exposure to SSRIs was associated with decreased growth of the head, but not decreased growth of the body."

In mothers with untreated depression, the babies had smaller growth in both the body and head, the investigators found.

"If the depression is untreated, it affected the whole body; but if the mother used SSRIs, the head growth of the fetus was affected," El Marroun noted. "This may mean that smaller head growth is not explained by depression, but by the SSRIs."

This suggests that imbalance in the brain's serotonin -- a chemical that helps the brain send signals from one area to another -- is not good for infants' developing brains, she said. SSRIs specifically target serotonin.

"We don't know what this means for the long-term development of these children," El Marroun said.

Doctors might be prescribing SSRIs too often, and there may be alternatives for pregnant women, she suggested. "Sometimes depression can be treated without medication," El Marroun said.

The report was published in the March 5 online edition of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

For the study, El Marroun's team studied birth outcomes in nearly 7,700 pregnant
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