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Managing the Advantages and Disadvantages of SSRIs and Birth Defects

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Explore the Competing Interests of Treatment with Antidepressant Medications During Pregnancy and the Potential for Birth Defects

During the nine months of pregnancy, you might think a woman would be thrilled imagining and preparing for life with her soon-to-be new family. The truth is, however, that many pregnant women struggle with depression during pregnancy. Roughly 14 to 23 percent of pregnant women fight depression, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Left untreated, depression has the potential to cause harm to babies. And yet, while selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) treat depression, they pose risks to the developing fetus. As such, a pregnant woman has a genuine dilemma: discontinue depression treatment to prevent birth defects or suffer from depression while pregnant and jeopardize the health of herself and her baby.

Untreated Depression while Pregnant can Lead to Many Potential Complications

Depression frequently leads to fewer prenatal care visits and poor eating and sleeping during pregnancy. Depressed women have higher risks of having miscarriages, premature births, c-sections, and low birth weight babies. Their babies may be born with respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), cerebral palsy, and substance abuse-related defects. For mothers, untreated depression can lead to high blood pressure and preeclampsia, postpartum depression, or, in severe cases, suicide.

Drawbacks of Taking Antidepressants During Pregnancy for the Baby

Rather than risk a psychiatric emergency, a pregnant patient may choose to remain on depression medication. Unfortunately, SSRIs are not entirely safe for fetuses. Babies born of mothers on antidepressants, like Paxil, Zoloft, and Prozac, are more likely to have physical and intellectual defects and autism. However, not all SSRIs pose the same risks to developing fetuses. Studies of antidepressants, like Venlafaxine, indicate that birth defects result more often from taking some SSRIs over others.

Certain SSRIs Have More Dangers than Others During Pregnancy

Specifically, Venlafaxine and amitriptyline raise the risk of gestational diabetes, which can result in large babies and birth injuries. Larger babies have trouble passing through the birth canal and may suffer shoulder, neck, head, and neurological injuries that range from temporary to lifelong. Larger babies also pose a greater risk of c-section.

Paxil is another antidepressant that tested as a higher-risk medication for birth defects, specifically fetal heart defects. Paxil has label warnings about use during pregnancy. According to a 2020 study published in JAMA Psychiatry, not only Paxil but Prozac is also more often associated with birth disorders. In that study, early pregnancy Prozac users birthed children with heart defects. Moreover, some early lawsuits against Celexa and Lexapro connected these drugs with congenital disabilities and suicidal tendencies in children born to mothers using them. Numerous lawsuits against the manufacturers of Prozac and Paxil for birth disorders also exist.

Other non-SSRI antidepressants may also treat depression during pregnancy, but they, too, have risks. For example, tricyclic antidepressants, such as Pamelor and Norpramin, may be safe, but another such antidepressant, Anafranil, is associated with birth disorders such as heart problems. In addition, users of Buproprion and Wellbutrin SR may find them helpful to ease depression, but Buproprion is risky for miscarriage and neonatal heart defects.

Physicians’ Duty of Care for Pregnant Expectant Mothers with Depression

Fortunately, an informed physician can help their pregnant patient navigate a safe course between treating depression and minimizing the effects of medication on her fetus. Knowing that some antidepressants are riskier than others, a physician can discuss the various options and known risks of each. They may recommend or prescribe a specific medication at a low dose after the first trimester to minimize detrimental effects on the fetus. They may also encourage psychotherapy.

A reproductive psychiatrist treats mental illness for those experiencing reproductive phases, including infertility, pregnancy, miscarriage, and premenstrual and perimenopausal disorders. A family physician or obstetrician most likely consults with or recommends their pregnant patients with depression visit such a specialist. A reproductive psychiatrist  is likely to be more informed and updated about pregnancy depression and the various treatments and medications to be able to match a medication to the patient’s symptoms, considering the least risk to the fetus.

Negligence with Depression Treatment During Pregnancy can Lead to Serious Birth Defects and Other Injuries

When a family physician or ob-gyn treating a pregnant patient with depression chooses not to consult with or refer a patient to a qualified reproductive psychiatrist, they may be risking the life of the patient and their baby. A physician must ensure they are current on the various treatments and medications in this narrow field of psychiatry and pregnancy. For example, prescribing Paxil, Lexapro, Celexa, or Prozac at the dosage recommended for non-pregnant users for a patient’s depression may place a patient’s baby at unnecessary risk.

Although these brands of antidepressants are common, they may not be the proper medications for a patient, especially a pregnant patient. More importantly, the timing of the drug is essential as many studies show the most detrimental effects of antidepressants correlated to use in the early stages of pregnancy. A physician who does not have thorough knowledge of the literature, studies, and litigation regarding depression medications and pregnancy may unknowingly cause heart and other birth defects in the patient’s baby by mis-prescribing drugs or dosages.

However, failing to treat or refer the patient for depression treatment could lead to grave harm to the patient and her baby. When physicians fail to do what is required of them by their profession’s standards, they may be liable for their negligent acts that cause harm to others. All medical professionals are held to a performance standard and safe medical practices. When a family doctor or ob-gyn deviates from accepted standards of medical practice, they may be liable for damages they cause through medical malpractice.

Consult a Lawyer if SSRIs During Pregnancy Caused Birth Defects in NJ

If your baby sufferED harm due to your doctor’s failure to appropriately treat your depression or refer you for treatment to the appropriate specialist, you may have a medical malpractice claim. To be sure you have a valid claim, it is extremely important to seek legal counsel from a knowledgeable medical malpractice attorney. Our team of lawyers can examine your case and if your child suffered a birth defect due to SSRI use during pregnancy, we can fully explore your legal options. If you have a valid claim, we will handle the entirety of the legal process to recoup the medical costs you spent in extended hospital stays for your newborn, medications, and therapies. Since your child may have continuing care, you want to have those costs covered, too, and our experienced attorneys can work toward recovering those costs as well.

With help from our dedicated medical malpractice lawyers, you can spare yourself the grief and frustration of dealing with insurance adjustors who may take advantage of your lack of legal knowledge and experience. We can help you prepare your claim with the proper and most persuasive evidence, following the legal rules and laws of New Jersey and fighting zealously to obtain the compensation for and your child deserve for injuries or birth defects caused by pregnancy-related SSRI negligence. Contact us at (866)-708-8617 or through our online contact form to fully explore your legal rights in a negligent depression treatment claim.

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