I cannot tell you how excited I am to share this news. Of course, it hasn’t spread like wildfire among media outlets, because it isn’t scary. But I’ll put aside my cynical hat for the moment to celebrate that the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Women’s Health has reported finding SSRI use in pregnancy safer that previously believed. The findings of previous studies were inconsistent, with some reporting a link between SSRI use in the first trimester and an “increased risk of cardiac malformations,” while others found no such link. This particular study is a big deal for a few reasons. First, the MGH Center for Women’s Health set out to resolve problems with previous studies, in order to make their findings more conclusive. Second, it has a world-renowned reputation for doing high-quality research.
While I suspect that doctors will continue to issue vague warnings about Zoloft and heart problems, their better-educated peers can reassure women who depend on this type of antidepressant that they are not, in fact, putting their developing babies at a greater risk. SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are the most commonly prescribed anti-depressant, and I get email almost every week from women who read this blog, and my story, and feel wracked with guilt for taking their medications during pregnancy. I so appreciate any good, solid, scientific information I can pass on to them to relieve any one of the many fears they tell me about.
There’s something important to note, here: the study finds that taking SSRIs in your first trimester is not likely to *increase* your baby’s chance of developing a heart defect. This language is used carefully because, as I write to every woman who tells me about her medication guilt, EVERY fetus is at risk for developing all kinds of defects. I still remember my shock, when I learned that taking my meds during pregnancy would simply increase risks that already existed. If there was “something wrong,” no one would be able to say with certainty that my medication had caused it, or whether it would have happened anyway. Babies are born with “cardiac malfunctions” to women who take SSRIs and to women who don’t; they just happen to occur at about the same rate, in both groups.
“There is no such thing as a risk-free pregnancy,” I learned while doing research before my pregnancy. Thank goodness that this common class of medication doesn’t seem linked to any additional risks to worry about!