Some Anti-Depressants Linked to Rare Cases of Birth Defects, Study Reveals

Researchers caution that risks of defects are low.

— -- A new study has shed light on the complex interaction between anti-depressants and pregnancy by looking at thousands of women who took them before giving birth.

Dr. Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Columbia University Medical College, told ABC News women should always consult with their doctors before going off their medication, even if pregnant.

"Pregnancy itself predisposes women to become depressed," said Gyamfi-Bannerman. "For most women it turns out the risk of taking the medication is much lower than the benefits to both them and the developing baby."

A major finding in the study was that the most commonly reported type of SSRI, sertraline, sold most often under the brand name Zoloft was not associated with any of the five birth defects identified in earlier studies. Approximately 40 percent of the women who used SSRI drugs reported using sertraline.

Dr. Bill Cooper, Professor of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said these large studies are key to help pregnant women make the best decisions about their health care.

"When you look at sertraline, it’s one of the most commonly used antidepressants," said Cooper. He said the findings that the Zoloft was not associated with any birth defects should be "reassuring" for expectant women.

The more common birth defects associated with anti-depressants include heart defects, issues with the abdominal wall, anus and malformation of the skull and brain.

"It’s very important that physicians advise any women considering use of Paxil (paroxetine) or other SSRIs during pregnancy of the potential risks, which are clearly detailed within the product label and patient information, recognizing that for some the benefits of therapy may continue to outweigh the potential risk," a GlaxoSmithKline spokesman said in a statement. " As with any medicine it is very important that patients do not stop taking their medication without first speaking to their physician.”