Intended for healthcare professionals


Prenatal exposure to antidepressants and increased risk of psychiatric disorders

BMJ 2017; 358 doi: (Published 06 September 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;358:j3950
  1. Hedvig Nordeng, professor1 2,
  2. Angela Lupattelli, post doc1,
  3. Mollie Wood, post doc1
  1. 1PharmacoEpidemiology and Drug Safety Research Group, School of Pharmacy, and PharmaTox Strategic Research Initiative, Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, University of Oslo, Norway
  2. 2Department of Child Health, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway
  1. Correspondence to: H Nordeng h.m.e.nordeng{at}

How can we disentangle the effects of antidepressants from the underlying risks?

“Will this drug harm my child’s brain?” Pregnant women who need antidepressants to treat severe depression ask this question every day worldwide. Despite antidepressants being one of the most studied drug groups in pregnancy, conflicting research findings and a polarised debate make this question extremely challenging to answer. As pregnant women are rarely included in randomised controlled trials, we need alternative methods to establish fetal safety. Prospective, long term pharmacoepidemiological studies among pregnant women offer the only real solution.

Liu and colleagues (doi:10.1136/bmj.j3668) find an association between prenatal exposure to antidepressants and psychiatric disorders in childhood.1 They suggest that the observed association may be due to the underlying maternal illness, antidepressants, or a combination of both. To a greater extent than previous studies, they explore a range of psychiatric outcomes including autism, mental retardation, and mood disorders. Using data from several Danish healthcare registries, the authors identified …

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