New research published in the July issue of The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that the use of mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, antidepressants, and hypnotics during pregnancy is associated with increased health risks to the infant.
While previous studies have examined the increased likelihood of birth defects from the use of psychotropic drugs in pregnancy, less is known about what effect prenatal exposure to various classes of psychiatric drugs has on newborn health outcomes. Current research has linked antipsychotic use with low birth weight, preterm birth, jaundice, and poor neonatal adaptation. Poor neonatal adaptation is characterized by “jitteriness, poor muscle tone, weak cry, respiratory distress, hypoglycemia, low Apgar scores, and seizures.” Antidepressants have also regularly been linked to low birth weight and poor neonatal adaptation.
The latest research, led by Anne-Laure Sutter-Dallay, explores “the independent impact of each class of psychotropic drug,” with specific health outcomes in infants, including preterm birth, low birth weight, and the likelihood of neonatal hospitalization.
“To our knowledge, no prior study has simultaneously explored the independent impact of prenatal exposure to multiple classes of psychotropic drugs on the health of the newborn. The findings were also adjusted for maternal characteristics often not included in such studies, especially maternal psychiatric diagnosis,” Sutter-Dallay wrote.
The study was carried out over 10 years (2001-2010) in 13 psychiatric inpatient units for women and babies in France, known as mother-baby units (MBUs), and included the health records of 1,071 mothers and their infants. They found that over 40% of the women in their sample used at least one psychotropic drug during pregnancy and that 52.4% of those were simultaneously taking more than one class of drug.
After adjusting for maternal characteristics, the researchers found that infants exposed to mood stabilizers were twice as likely to have low birth weights and were more likely to be hospitalized if prenatally exposed to antipsychotics, antidepressants, or hypnotics.
They conclude that “Infants exposed to psychotropic drugs during pregnancy have less optimal neonatal outcomes than unexposed infants and should be considered as a high-risk population.”
The researchers suggest that women diagnosed with mental health disorders do need treatment but that their results highlight the necessity for increased follow-up and monitoring of these women and their infants. They recommend that more studies be carried out to “examine the impact of each pharmacologic class of drug,” as well as “the occurrence and the severity of poor neonatal adaptation of exposed infants, and the link between poor neonatal adaptation and subsequent child development.”
Sutter-Dallay, A. L., Bales, M., Pambrun, E., Glangeaud-Freudenthal, N. M., Wisner, K. L., & Verdoux, H. (2015). Impact of prenatal exposure to psychotropic drugs on neonatal outcome in infants of mothers with serious psychiatric illnesses. The Journal of clinical psychiatry. (Abstract)