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To treat or not to treat: maternal depression, SSRI use in pregnancy and adverse neonatal effects

  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 July 2006

Recent pharmaceutical company and regulatory body circulars warning against the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in late pregnancy have left clinicians in somewhat of a quandary as to how to manage their more severely depressed patients in pregnancy. Conversely, up to 75% of depressed women ceasing their antidepressants periconceptually will relapse. Studies reporting on adverse neonatal outcomes following exposure to SSRIs in the latter half of pregnancy suggest that the fetus is exposed to significant concentrations of these medications during this time. Adverse neonatal effects affecting the respiratory, gastrointestinal and neurological systems are, however, predominantly mild and self-limiting. One small retrospective case study suggests that SSRI exposure in the latter half of pregnancy may be associated with an increased risk of persistent pulmonary hypertension of the neonate (PPHN), however, the absolute risk of developing PPHN remains very small and these findings will require replication with a prospective study. While the studies to date suggest the need to closely monitor SSRI-exposed neonates in the immediate postnatal period, preferably with a neonatal withdrawal scale and access to neonatology services, there is currently no clear argument for women to be weaned off their SSRI in late pregnancy. The decision to use SSRIs at this time will have to be made on a case-by-case basis in close consultation with the mother and her partner.

Corresponding author
Department Liaison Psychiatry, Prince of Wales Hospital, High Street, Randwick, NSW, Australia, 2031. (Email:
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
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