Study links repeated SSRIs during pregnancy to childhood language disorders

The use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors at least twice during pregnancy may be associated with an increased risk of offspring developing a speech and/or language disorder, according to a study from Columbia University.

"To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the relationship between maternal antidepressant use and speech/language, scholastic, and motor disorders in offspring. The study benefited from a large sample population and followed the children beyond age 3," says Columbia professor of Psychiatry, Alan Brown.

Pregnant woman

For the study, the researchers looked at three groups of offspring: those with mothers who had depression-related disorders and bought SSRIs during pregnancy (medicated group, 15,596); those with mothers who had the disorders, but did not buy the drugs (unmedicated group, 9,537) and those with mothers who neither had a disorder, nor bought the drugs (unexposed group 31,207).

As reported in JAMA Psychiatry, there was an increased risk of speech/language disorders among offspring in the medicated and unmedicated groups, compared with those in the unexposed group.

When Brown and colleagues analyzed exposure by number of purchase, the offspring of women who bought SSRIs twice or more were 37% more likely to have a speech/language disorder compared with those in the unmedicated group. Although the researchers could not confirm that the mothers had actually taken the medication, the association between maternal exposure and the language disorders only existed for children of mothers who had purchased the SSRIs more than once during pregnancy. No differences were found between these two groups for scholastic or motor disorders.

Brown says:

We believe that our finding about children of mothers who purchased at least two SSRI prescriptions during pregnancy is particularly meaningful because these women are more likely to have taken these medications, and more likely to have been exposed for a longer period and to larger amounts of the SSRI in pregnancy, compared to women who filled only one prescription.”

“This finding may have implications for understanding associations between SSRIs and child development,” he concludes.

Sally Robertson

Written by

Sally Robertson

Sally first developed an interest in medical communications when she took on the role of Journal Development Editor for BioMed Central (BMC), after having graduated with a degree in biomedical science from Greenwich University.

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