Psychiatrists and others who prescribe antidepressants to women are being alerted to a new concern: children born to mothers taking SSRIs in the second and/or third trimester of pregnancy are at increased risk for development of Autistic Spectrum Disorders.

A study carried out at the University of Montreal in Quebec, Canada, published the findings December 14 online in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics. The report said, “use of antidepressants during the second and/or third trimester was associated with the risk of ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorders).

“Use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors during the second and/or third trimester was significantly associated with an increased risk of ASD. The risk persisted even after taking into account maternal history of depression.”

During 904,035.50 person-years of follow-up, 1,054 children (0.7%) were diagnosed with ASD. Boys with ASD outnumbered the girls by a ratio of approximately 4:1, the study reported.

Antidepressant exposure during pregnancy was defined according to trimester and specific antidepressant classes.

Children with ASD were defined as those with at least one diagnosis of ASD between date of birth and last date of follow-up. Cox proportional hazards regression models were used to estimate crude and adjusted hazard ratios with 95% CIs.

The researchers concluded that use of antidepressants — specifically SSRIs — during the second and/or third trimester of pregnancy increases the risk of ASD in children, even after considering maternal depression.

“Further research is needed to specifically assess the risk of ASD associated with antidepressant types and dosages during pregnancy,” the researchers noted.