BARCELONA – Prenatal exposure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors late in pregnancy was associated with a significantly increased risk of anxious and/or depressed behaviors at 5 years of age in the prospective Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study.
Other than that specific red flag, however, the outcomes of in utero exposure to maternal SSRIs were reassuringly benign. Prenatal exposure during early- or mid-pregnancy was not associated with increased risk of anxious/depressed behaviors, compared with nonexposure; that adverse effect was restricted to exposure at week 29 of pregnancy or later. Nor did in utero exposure to maternal SSRIs during any time in pregnancy pose an increased risk for pediatric externalizing, emotional, or social problems in this observational study of 8,359 Norwegian mother-child dyads,, observed at the annual congress of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology.
The huge Norwegian study was among what she considers the four most important studies in child/adolescent psychiatry published through the first three quarters of 2018. The others she highlighted were a large longitudinal observational study that demonstrated that persistent maternal postnatal depression was strongly associated with a variety of pediatric behavioral disturbances documented during assessments at ages 3.5, 16, and 18 years; a Philadelphia study showing that multiple traumatic stressful events or any assaultive trauma experienced by children or adolescents were independently associated with significant psychopathology and neurocognitive deficits; and a Dutch brain MRI study that pinpointed a reduction in gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex as a potential key mediator of the neurobiologic aftereffects of childhood sexual abuse.
She selected those studies because they shared a common theme, one that constituted her key take-home message: “When recording antecedents during a clinical assessment, both with adults and children, it is clear that we have to ask in a more detailed way – using validated scales and interviews if possible – about the mother’s prenatal problems, including psychopharmacological treatment. That is something we often don’t do in a sufficiently detailed way in our clinical practice. And it’s also important to ask about life events; abuse during childhood and adolescence can be really important. We can modulate our treatment depending upon whether there is an influence of any of these aspects,” said Dr. Castro-Fornieles, director of the Clinical Institute of Neuroscience at the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona and a recent past-president of the Spanish Society for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
The following are her Top 4 studies:
The Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study
The increased risk of anxious and/or depressed behaviors in children exposed to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) late in pregnancy did not emerge until the year-5 assessment; it wasn’t evident at the 1.5- or 3-year evaluations.
The investigators emphasized a key lesson from their study: The importance of following children with late-pregnancy exposure to maternal SSRI therapy for development of symptoms of anxiety and/or depression (). Dr. Castro-Fornieles strongly endorsed that recommendation. However, she noted what she considers an important limitation to the study: even though the University of Oslo investigators adjusted for numerous potential confounders in their risk models – including maternal body mass index, parity, education, smoking, substance use, breastfeeding, folic acid use, and other medications used during pregnancy – it’s not possible in a study such as this to control for genetic and environmental risk factors, which she suspects also were at work.