Mothers, who take certain widely-used antidepressants during pregnancy, are at greater risk of giving birth to children with autism. In fact, the findings are based on a study of 145,456 pregnancies in the Canadian province of Québec between January 1998 and December 2009. The findings have been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics.

“Our study has established that taking antidepressants during the second or third trimester of pregnancy almost doubles the risk that the child will be diagnosed with autism by age seven, especially if the mother takes selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, often known by its acronym SSRIs,” said Anick Berard, lead author and pharmaceutical safety during pregnancy expert at University of Montreal, reported.

Although the study could not prove that taking antidepressants like Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft, also known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), during pregnancy was the cause of autism spectrum disorder in children, the researchers were able to establish a link between women in later stages of pregnancy (4-9 months) taking antidepressants and autism in children under seven years, reports Independent. It almost doubled the chances of autism in the first years of a child’s life.

According to the researchers, there was an 87 per cent higher chance of risk of autism when women in their late pregnancy stages took antidepressants, which are an important time for brain development in foetuses. Even though the study does not establish a direct cause-effect relationship, the researchers did eliminate other reasons, such as poverty, maternal age and genetics.

Many experts have warned the researchers that the preliminary findings are capable of raising a possible alarm as SSRIs are a first-choice medication for up to one in ten women suffering from depression during pregnancy. These antidepressants are prescribed as they are low on side-effects.

“It is possible that the higher risk of autism spectrum disorder is due to the medication, but it may also be due to the effects of the mood disorder for which the medication has been prescribed,” said Cardiff University National Centre for Mental Health director, Professor Ian Jones.

No association was found by researchers with antidepressants used the year before getting pregnant and even in the first trimester. Moreover, no link was established for non-SSRI antidepressants.

Contact the writer of this story at or let us know what you think below.