Researchers link two popular antidepressant drugs to birth defects

I often write about the many serious dangers of antidepressant drugs. Now, new evidence shows these drugs pass on problems to the next generation–in more ways than one.

Last year, I wrote about a study that showed mothers given a type of antidepressant drug called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) run a greater risk of having children with autism and developmental delays. The mainstream reacted with disbelief and denial. And doctors continue to give these drugs to pregnant mothers.

Now, a new study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found strong links between two popular antidepressant drugs and birth defects. And this new statistical analysis is simply too big to ignore.

Researchers analyzed data on 17,952 mothers of infants with birth defects and 9,857 mothers of infants without birth defects. Then they cross-referenced the data against women who took one of five different types of SSRIs anywhere between the month before becoming pregnant through the third month of pregnancy. Last, they analyzed whether women who took an SSRI were more likely to have children with birth defects than women who didn’t take those medications. The data came from 10 different clinical centers in many different states

The analysis linked Paxil (paroxetine) and Prozac (fluoxetine) to several different types of serious birth defects. The results were disturbing to say the least. For example, the study linked:

  • Paxil and Prozac with a defect that obstructs blood flow from the heart to the lungs.
  • Paxil with holes in the heart wall.
  • Paxil with anencephaly, a condition in which babies are born without parts of the brain and skull.
  • Prozac with irregularly shaped skulls.
  • Paxil with abdominal wall defects, although that evidence was not as strong,

The conclusions show these birth defects occur 2.0 to 3.5 times more frequently among infants of mothers given Paxil or Prozac during the first trimester than among infants of women who didn’t take the drugs.

This data really shouldn’t come as any surprise. Prior studies showed an association between maternal SSRI use and 14 different birth defects

But amazingly, the study authors concluded the data somehow provide “reassuring evidence for some SSRIs.” What could possibly be “reassuring” about double, triple or almost quadruple the risk of birth defects?

Yes–three of the SSRIs showed no link to birth defects. But two of the most popular SSRIs showed disturbingly serious ones.  And all these drugs work by essentially the same “mechanism of action,” that is, they have the same effects on essential biochemical processes involving critical neurotransmitters.

If researchers found any dietary, lifestyle or reproductive factor that doubles, triples, or quadruples the risk of cancer or heart disease, they would jump all over it. The nanny government would declare politically correct prohibitions against all kinds of behaviors that would now suddenly constitute “risk factors.”

But “only” double, triple, and almost quadruple the risk when it comes to drugs is supposed to be “reassuring”?

The FDA first published an “advisory” warning about birth defects with SSRIs in December 2005. So why did it take so long to get more evidence?

Doctors increasingly give pregnant women and women of reproductive age these dangerous drugs. In fact, in a recent study, 69 percent of women still thought it’s “definitely” or “probably safe” to take such drugs when not pregnant or breastfeeding. And 33 percent of women still thought it is definitely or probably safe to take such drugs even when pregnant or breastfeeding.

Amazingly, the study authors still think not enough women take these drugs because of their concerns about safety. Meanwhile, their analysis shows and confirms that SSRI-related birth defects are a major public health problem.

The FDA once became a modern, mid-20th century hero when they warned about the drug Thalidomide. They quickly banned it from the market when they found evidence it caused birth defects in infants of mothers given the drug in Europe.

And when I was in med school in the 1970s, we learned to try to not give any drugs during pregnancy. It seemed like the FDA, the medical profession, and the public had learned something from the Thalidomide scandal of the mid-20th century.

Yet when it comes to SSRIs, the FDA won’t really act, despite the convincing evidence. Now all we have is a 10-year-old “advisory” warning with a potentially much bigger problem.

Bottom line?

They should consider taking prescription pads out of the hands of physicians who have their hands on pregnant women.

You may well wonder what a woman should do if she’s depressed and finds herself pregnant. Well, on Friday, I’ll tell you about a major, new research presented session at the annual meetings of the American Psychiatric Association about a simple, yet staggeringly effective, drug-free approach for treating depression. In fact, the research shows this approach works even better than any psychiatric “treatment” available, including drugs.


  1. “Specific SSRIs and birth defects: Bayesian analysis to interpret new data in the context of previous reports,” British Medical Journal ( 7/8/2015