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October 14, 2022 • Brooke Siem

Newborn Babies Go Through Antidepressant Withdrawal

In less exciting news, a new meta-analysis shows evidence that newborn babies go through antidepressant withdrawal if their mothers were taking SSRIs while pregnant. 

If you remember from one of my old articles about how to read a research paper, meta-analysis are how researchers make sense of the data in hundreds or thousands of individual papers. After extracting the data, analysts use a variety of methods to account for differences like sample size, variations in study approach that may affect the overall outcome of the systematic review, and overall findings.

In this analysis, researchers reviewed 13 individual studies related to SSRI/SNRI use in pregnant women and determined that the resulting babies experience common withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, hyper/hypotonia (increased/decreased muscle tone), tachycardia, rapid breathing, respiratory distress, and hypertonia. 

Because this is a meta-analysis and not a research study directly observing babies exposed to antidepressants in utero, the researchers were not in a position to estimate the frequency or severity of withdrawal in newborns. However, the researchers noted one study where “neonatal abstinence syndrome” (a fancy term for a group of conditions caused when a baby withdraws from certain drugs its exposed to in the womb) was found in 30% of the babies exposed to antidepressants, and none of the babies who were not.

What makes this even more interesting is the potential link between antidepressant exposure in utero and autism. The research on this link is severely incomplete and inconclusive, but given the concurrent rise of both antidepressant use and autism, it’s worth further research and examination.

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