Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Autism and Antidepressants in Pregnancy: Don't Freak Out (Updated)

Image credit: Amazon.
You did not cause your child's autism.

No matter what you ate, took, smoked, drank, or did during your pregnancy, you didn't cause it. 

It's not your fault.

A handful of studies have come out recently linking autism to the environment, including the environment in the womb.  In particular, one study, which followed fewer than 300 families, found that taking antidepressants during pregnancy may be connected to a higher risk of autism for the baby.

It’s not a causative link; it’s a correlative link. In other words, maybe moms who reach out for mental health support for themselves are more likely to reach out for diagnoses for their children.

I hope that the mainstream media, before writing frightening headlines, takes the time to interview experts in prenatal mental health.  I also hope that women who are pregnant, or planning to become pregnant, talk to their ob/gyns and their mental health professionals about the risks and benefits of taking medications while pregnant.

Nontreatment of depression during pregnancy has its own risks, including preterm birth, growth problems, and a potentially much greater risk of postpartum depression.

There is so much we don't know about autism.  I'm glad that studies are ongoing, and I'd like to see larger studies done on this topic.  In the mean time, let's not freak out.

We parents of special needs children have enough guilt, worry, and stress in our lives, without trying to figure out if five years ago, we made all the right choices.  For those of us with autistic kids, this study kind of doesn't matter at all.  Today I will keep teaching Little Dude how to communicate; I will work with him on potty training; I will help him develop a better tolerance for frustration.  Nothing on CNN is going to change those plans.

Also, please heed my warning: reading a two-sentence news bullet point doesn’t actually make random people qualified to ask me about my pregnancy history with my autistic son. Unless you’re my son’s neurologist, or maybe Oprah, it would be kind of awesome, in fact, if you would just shut the hell up about it.

Update: My friend over at Pregnant Chicken has a whole blog about pregnancy awesomeness, especially what's safe and what's not.  I wrote a little post for her on what experts like the American Psychiatric Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say about pregnancy and mental health.  It includes links to look up the safety of each antidepressants by category and name, and other resources for women in crisis.  Check it out.

32 comments:

  1. Thank you for this.

    I hadn't actually heard of this study yet, so it's nice to be forewarned.

    I never would have gotten pregnant at all if it weren't for antidepressants. And I sometimes wish I had stayed on them instead of immediately going off, because I had both pre and post-partum depession, pretty severely.

    I suspect my son's issues have a lot more to do with the apparently genetic anxiety and depression that put me on meds in the first place.

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  2. I took antidepressants for one pregnancy, not the other, both kids are autistic. Most of those studies that come out prove to be true or partially true for one of my kids, but not the other, yet both are autistic, so I take all studies with a grain of salt.

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  3. I've wondered about this before. To be honest I can't remember during which of my 3 pregnancies I was on antidepressants or if I was on for the whole time. I've been one of those on again off again people. But I do look for reasons sometimes, and I have wondered about it.

    Hasn't it also been found that there is a higher risk of autism in kids who have a family history of depression or mental illness? It might have nothing at all to do with the use of antidepressants.

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  4. The first thing I thought when I saw this study is the fact that they didn't screen these mothers for ASD. It's possible the women were taking meds to treat "depression" or "anxiety," which can be symptoms of Asperger Syndrome. I took anti-depressants for years--although not during my pregnancy--for "social anxiety." Turns out that "social anxiety" was ASD-related.

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  5. A to the men.

    If it hadn't been for my anti-anxiety meds, I might not have survived pregnancy. I had multiple long, thoughtful talks about benefits and risks with my doc, whom I trust far more than a headline on CNN.

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  6. Elizabeth ZielinskiJuly 5, 2011 at 8:22 AM

    I love your wise insights and mentally healthy approach to dealing with autism. I too, will be helping my own Little Dude today in much the same ways as you are helping yours. The research is important, for sure. But so is the keeping calm and living in the moment.

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  7. amen!!! said perfectly! I read the article this morning, and easily dismissed it. I didn't take antidepressants when pregnant, but my son is still autistic. So I knew right away it wasn't a catch all. But others might read it, and feel unsure of themselves. Good for you for being a voice of reason for them!

    I commend any woman who is strong enough to admit she needs help, and takes action to make sure she is giving her everything for her children.

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  8. So true. I like what Web said, "I suspect my son's issues have a lot more to do with the apparently genetic anxiety and depression that put me on meds in the first place."

    My personal experience? First pregnancy: no meds. Son has Asperger's. Second pregnancy: Lexapro, which kept me from being catatonic on the sofa. Son is totally neurotypical and smart as a whip.

    I so hope that this little study doesn't keep pregnant moms from taking the meds that some of us so, so desperately need.

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  9. Thank you so much for this; it's like you read my mind. I am 10 weeks pregnant and decided on stay on my antidepressants, but I have moments of panic where I'm wondering about the choice I made. And then, of course, I have moments where I feel completely empowered about it.

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  10. My own mother said to me after littlest one's diagnosis....."Well, I guess you should't have taken those drugs (antidepressants) when you were pregnant". I hear you on the SHUT UP PEOPLE front. Even if this turns out to be true someday, it doesn't make a bit of diff to us currently. And, it NEVER helps to so kindly point out to someone that you've 'discovered' how their kid was born autistic, with ms, blind, mentally ill, etc.........

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  11. ツ love this ツ

    I wasn't on antidrpressants during pregnancy...but have had mild depression/anxiety most of my life.

    Just know the mainstream media is gonna run the wrong way with this.....sigh.

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  12. When people ask me what I think about this latest study, I'm going to point them right to this absolutely brilliant and well-said post. Thank you for this.

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  13. thanks so much for this SRMM! I needed this today. I am the person you wrote it for. And I am not going to freak out, with some help from you...

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  14. Thank you thank you for this post. Very timely and very much needed.

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  15. AMEN. I heard the two sentence "story" on the Today show today and almost punched the TV. Thanks for setting the story straight. You are awesome.

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  16. I read a NYT article on this last night and thought "Well I had never taken any SSRIs before the birth of my first daughter who is autistic. Took boatloads of them thereafter and thru-out the pregnancy of my second daughter who is not autistic."

    Pregnant mothers can be irrational and overzealous when it comes to the health of their unborn children. I know because I have been there, terrified of doing anything that would 'cause' my second child to also be autistic.

    I can't imagine how I would have dealt if I had heard this while pregnant.

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  17. Anyone who feels like creating a login can go to medscape.com and read tons of medical articles; they're all searchable by topic and keyword. 1 line from a study I found really jumped out at me. The site is free, BTW.

    "Autism has the highest estimated heritability (>90%) among behaviorally defined neuropsychiatric disorders." Nothing in there about how it's our birth mom's fault for taking anything while preggo. No kidding.

    Anyway, you can read the study here:
    http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/583917
    Cheers.

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  18. They still don't know so I wish they'd shut up about their speculation.

    First, there's a link between older mothers and higher corelation with kids with autism

    Then, if you are an educated mommy there is a higher risk of autism too.

    Like we need more mommy guilt and more microscopic introspection. So again I wish they'd just shut up until they have something conclusive.

    Research something that will help me, like for example, does prematurity have an impact on autism? Does the fact that prematurity keeps increasing and now 1 out of 8 births will be premature, does that increase the risk of autism? Prematurity increases risks for cerebal palsy and other neurological disorders. Autism is a neurological type disorder. They could survey a bunch of mothers of NICU patients and just statistically come up with better conclusions than the antidepressants one. They drive me stark, raving mad.

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  19. I just want to say *like*

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  20. This is nice to read. The two kids I took antidepressants with have less issues then the one I didn't take them with and I had the added bonus of not worrying that I would stab myself to death after birth cause I had my happy pills.

    The benefits of them far outweighed the risks

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  21. Thank you ! My 7yo son is PDD-NOS (diagnosed at age 4) and I cannot shake the constant "did I do this?" feeling. His birthday was yesterday and someone said "7 years ago today, you were born" and all I could think of was "I wish I had stopped taking Antidepressants 8 years ago." It stinks. My son has so many of my traits, I think if I were a child today, I would be in the PDD-NOS umbrella as well. I have tried to focus on TODAY. I try to deal with the current issues only - God made my son exactly how he is supposed to be and thankfully, He knows best. Thanks for the helping hand - I really needed it today :)

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  22. "We parents of special needs children have enough guilt, worry, and stress in our lives, without trying to figure out if five years ago, we made all the right choices." Amen! I have officially sworn off all the mom-guilt floating around the universe.

    Thank you for distinguishing between causation and correlation. The people who write articles about these studies nearly always overlook that.

    I have 3 kids. One is on the autism spectrum, and she's the only one with whom I *didn't* take antidepressants during pegnancy. Go figure.

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  23. I have heard of this study that may link autism to pregnant mothers who took the drug or any other antidepressant during the time. Has anyone else heard this?

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  24. Yes, I have! If you would like more information on this you can go to www.zolofthurtmychild.com or call 1-855-ZOLOFT-1.

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  26. I never recommend anti depressants to cure depression, there are safer alternatives.....

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  27. There is definitely a correlation, hopefully scientific research will prove this further.

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  28. I'm crying right now. I just don't know why I was so stupid as to keep taking medication during pregnancy just because doctors told me too. I knew about thalidomide so why did I listen to them saying it would never damange my baby? I don't feel I even really needed the meds I was just scared of withdrawal. I feel so stupid. My mother had just died when I found out I was pregnant and I was confused.
    But thanks for posting this I feel a bit better that that study i keep reading about had less than 300 people in it.

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  29. I think studies are very important to those of us who have not become pregnant yet and are still on these meds. Knowledge is power and there is definitely a link between antidepressant use and autism so please stop misleading readers.

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