Prenatal Antidepressants and Autism

When I’m working around the house, I’ll often have crappy daytime tv on for background noise. The ads assume anyone home during the day is unemployed and/or disabled: train to be an ultrasound technician, get cash for your structured settlement, sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan, call a personal injury attorney. 

“I’ve fallen…and I can’t get up!”  Lately, they’ve started playing ads that speak to me: call a lawyer if you took antidepressants during pregnancy and your child suffered birth defects. These ads, and the spam that fills my inbox, say taking Zoloft has been linked to heart defects, persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn, neural tube defect, craniosynostosis, clubfoot, cleft palate, limb defects, and anal atresia.

Autism is not one of the conditions in the ads, but I have always wondered what effect my taking antidepressants during pregnancy had on Ryan’s development. 

When I was pregnant, my doctor told me the general medical consensus was that the benefit of treating the mother’s depression outweighed any known risks of fetal exposure to SSRIs.

Over the last five years, several studies have pointed to a possible connection between the use of SSRIs in pregnancy and the development of autism. The most recent, and most damning, came this week in the Archives of General Psychology. That study suggested that use of SSRIs during pregnancy – especially during the first trimester – can double or even triple the chances a baby will be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. And it further noted that “No increase in risk was found for mothers with a history of mental health treatment in the absence of prenatal exposure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors,” meaning it’s likely that the problem lies in the drugs, not in the underlying condition that may or may not lead to the use of drugs.

That said, the vast majority of children with autism were not exposed to SSRIs in utero, and the vast majority of children exposed to SSRIs in utero do not go on to develop autism. There’s a complicated mix of genetic and environmental factors at play here, and I look forward to the follow-up studies.

I believe I made the right decision to continue to treat my depression during my pregnancy. According to the American Pregnancy Association,
Depression that is not treated can have potential dangerous risks to the mother and baby. Untreated depression can lead to poor nutrition, drinking, smoking, and suicidal behavior, which can then cause premature birth, low birth weight, and developmental problems. A woman who is depressed often does not have the strength or desire to adequately care for herself or her developing baby. Babies born to mothers who are depressed may also be less active, show less attention and are more irritable and agitated than babies born to moms who are not depressed. This is why getting the right help is so important for both mom and baby. Great risks, indeed.

I must keep reminding myself of those risks so I don’t fall into the tempting spiral of self-blame for my child’s challenges.

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Meredith Zolty
My kid is great! And he has PDD-NOS and ADHD (e-i-e-i-o). The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Watch us navigate the world of neurodiversity at
Meredith Zolty


My kid is great! And he has PDD-NOS and ADHD (e-i-e-i-o). The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Watch us navigate the world of neurodiversity at

0 thoughts on “Prenatal Antidepressants and Autism

  • @Kaitlin – I too took antidepressants during pregnancy, and this article is great….yes antidepressants out weigh the risk….when I first heard the connection between these drugs and Autism my heart sunk…same with me there were no studies showing any link of taking antidepressants and birth defects yrs later it’s now coming out, you take any risk while pregnant and taking medications….but I truly do NOT beleive my taking antidepressants for my anxiety and panic disorder caused my sons Autism.

  • I know exactly how you feel.  I’m glad you feel like you made the best decision because I have fallen into that hole of self-blame over and over again.  I know it isn’t my fault, that I followed the directions of 5 doctors, but I still feel responsible and full of guilt.  I have to remind myself that the link between autism and antidepressant use during pregnancy was not made until my daughter was several months old.  Hang in there, you aren’t alone… and I will try to adopt your attitude 🙂


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