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Last summer the FDA issued warnings about the risk of taking antidepressant medications during pregnancy. At the time, the warnings related to a specific class of antidepressants known as SSRIs—or Selective Seratonin Reuptake Inhibitors—that include medications marketed under brand names Celexa, Paxil, Prozac, Lexapro and Zoloft. This class of drugs had been linked to a number of birth defects such as neural tube defects, heart defects including septal defects, and persistent pulmonary hypertension.

Now, information is emerging that another class of antidepressant medications also pose risks to the unborn fetus if taken during pregnancy. Specifically, the safety of a drug known as venlafaxine and marketed under the brand name Effexor is being questioned. Effexor is known as a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) and is also used to treat depression. But, like SSRIs, Effexor poses risks to infants whose mothers take it during pregnancy.

A study published in the medical journal Pediatrics in 2010 indicated that children who experienced fetal exposure to antidepressant medications reached key milestones such as sitting, walking and entertaining themselves later than children who did not have that exposure. Another study from 2011 in the Archives of General Psychiatry provided further evidence that SSRIs may be dangerous to unborn children. That study found that first-trimester exposure to SSRIs may modestly increase the risk of an autism spectrum disorder. Finally, a study published in 2010 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that the use of venlafaxine (Effexor) during pregnancy increased the risk of a spontaneous abortion.

Aside from these studies, antidepressant medications, including Effexor, have been linked to such serious birth defects as: congenital heart lesions and anomalies, Down’s syndrome, undescended testes, blindness, spina bifida, hernias, clubfoot, septal defects, and oral cleft defects.

Taken together, these studies reinforce what many women on antidepressant medication may very well already know: that drug treatment during pregnancy is something to be carefully discussed your physician, psychologist and psychiatrist.

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