SSRIs and Benzodiazepines Associated with Problems in Infants


Infants exposed to SSRIs and benzodiazepines during pregnancy show impaired neurological functioning in the first month after birth, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. While infants exposed SSRIs alone showed neurobehavioral effects throughout the first month, those exposed to an SSRI and a benzodiazepine had more significant problems.

“Prior studies suggested that 30% of infants have difficulty adapting to withdrawal of SSRI medication after delivery and that this lasts up to 7 to 10 days. Our main findings suggest that the difficulties last at least 14 days and may last through the first month, especially for infants whose mothers also took a benzodiazepine. The difficulties included more startling, tremors, low muscle tone, and high irritability,” the study’s lead author, Amy Salisbury, told Medscape.

Between eight and ten percent of women in the United States are diagnosed with major depressive disorder every year. It is of increasing importance to understand the effects of the antidepressant drugs that are typically prescribed to these women during pregnancy. Current practice guidelines suggest that women consider discontinuing their SSRI prescriptions during the third trimester of pregnancy to protect their unborn infants from exposure. Research suggest that about half of all pregnant women on SSRI discontinue the drug at this time.

To test the effects of SSRIs and benzodiazepines on infants, researchers recruited 184 women into three groups: those who were depressed and did not take medication, those who were depressed and took an SSRI or an SSRI plus a benzodiazepine, and those who were not depressed. The researchers then examined the infants’ neurobehavioral functioning for the first month after birth.

Surprisingly, the researchers found that “there were no differences seen between infants whose mothers reported discontinuation of the SSRI prior to the last month of pregnancy compared with infants whose mothers continued SSRI use through delivery.”

They also found that infants who were exposed to both SSRIs and benzodiazepines had the lowest motor scores and showed more signs of stress on their nervous systems. These infants also had lower self-regulation and higher arousal two weeks after delivery.

Newborns exposed only to SSRIs “also had poorer self-regulation and higher arousal levels at day 14 than those in the no exposure and depression groups.” This was an “unexpected finding,” according to the researchers, and the differences “remained consistent despite statistical tests of other explanations, such as breastfeeding, early discontinuation, postnatal maternal medication use, and maternal depression severity.”


Salisbury, A. L., O’Grady, K. E., Battle, C. L., Wisner, K. L., Anderson, G. M., Stroud, L. R., … & Lester, B. M. (2015). The Roles of Maternal Depression, Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor Treatment, and Concomitant Benzodiazepine Use on Infant Neurobehavioral Functioning Over the First Postnatal Month.American Journal of Psychiatry. (Abstract)

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Justin Karter
MIA Research News Editor: Justin M. Karter is the lead research news editor for Mad in America. He completed his doctorate in Counseling Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He also holds graduate degrees in both Journalism and Community Psychology from Point Park University. He brings a particular interest in examining and decoding cultural narratives of mental health and reimagining the institutions built on these assumptions.


  1. One out of forty five children now have autism. I strongly predict that this increasing rate of autism is partially caused by increased pharmaceutical use by pregnant women. I doubt there is much research funded to test for harm caused by drugs given to pregnant women. Even Thalidomide given to expectant women was exposed for its harm with great resistance from the drug and medical industry. We are letting corporations have more and more (and more) power over our medical research, which is no longer based on sound science. We are harming babies and the entire population with profit driven healthcare.

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    • You are absolutely right. There have already been so many studies that confirm drugs like antidepressants in pregnancy significantly raise the risk for autism. Some studies on rodents even flat out said that all the rodents in their study exposed to SSRIs during pregnancy gave birth to offspring with autistic behaviors. Even lose oxytocin receptors.

      Study: Rodents exposed to SSRI antidepressant in womb show autism-like behaviors and lose brain receptors for oxytocin and vasopressin

      And yet even when all the evidence is presented time and time again nothing is done. If we’re lucky we get an internet article about one of these rarely released eye opening studies and then its forgotten again or its quickly dismissed with a well-timed follow up study that suspiciously finds the opposite result. There is so much propaganda toward pregnant women to not worry about taking pharmaceuticals despite the well known evidence that shows they harm the baby.

      Its so sad that the public is so clueless as to whats causing autism rates to go up when its right in front of us. But no, big pharma would rather push the idea that autism is a condition just caused by genetics. Then they advertise their same drugs that caused it as treatment for it. Its honestly genius from a business standpoint and disturbingly ironic from a treatment standpoint.

      We are supposed to trust medical science, but our trust has been taken advantage of and is being used to sell us damaging drugs by the greedy corporations that now control the entire medical system and its research. It is scary how much corruption there is. Science is being bought.

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      • Thank you for your comments.

        I took Phenergan, (only 1/2 the dose) for severe morning sickness (kept ending up in the hospital) for 5 months during my first pregnancy. I questioned this treatment but was reassured that it was safe although I have now learned that it was a Class C drug. I was not offered the non-drug alternatives that I found for my second and third pregnancies. My oldest child was diagnosed on the “Spectrum,” when he was very young. I am convinced his difficulties are the result of this drug but I am so frustrated that so little research exists. I also wonder if what we call the Autism Spectrum includes a wide range of conditions including natural personality differences to severe neurological harm. We know that the babies who’s mothers took Thalidomide (and who had their limbs), ended up with a much higher rate of autism.

        Thank you for your interest in this. I hope we gain attention and support to draw awareness to the risks of prescribed meds during pregnancy.

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        • And thank you for your interest.

          I would be convinced it was the Phenergan too if I were in your position. Phenergan was actually used as an anti-psychotic back in the day. Makes sense that a drug like that could mess up the neurological development of a baby in the womb.

          Pharmaceuticals used in pregnancy should be the elephant in the room when it comes to autism research. There’s a severe lack of studies that show whether or not mothers of autistic children took any pharmaceuticals of any kind during pregnancy. And many of the studies that are done end up not even getting published, like the study I linked above which was only revealed at a neuroscience conference last month. And here’s yet another unpublished SSRI autism link study shown at the conference:

          The question is why aren’t these studies being published in medical journals. Its simply because the journals are bought by the drug corporations. Its sickening how real science that could hurt someone’s profits is not allowed anymore. Medical journals have become advertisements for rigged studies conducted by the companies themselves.

          Hopefully more people begin to see how corrupt our medical system is.

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  2. They also die…………………. Zoloft causes so many deadly deformities. My baby died after only 3 days. Zoloft use for only the first 8-10 weeks, meant he only had half his heart develop. SSRIs increase the likelihood of serious deformites by 7 times………… that was on CDCs report……….. but they actually said this increase ‘WAS NEGLIBIBLE”??? BEG PARDON???? My babies death was another “negligible”, no my baby was murdered by zoloft, I was one of the very first guinea pigs, yep, freebies out of the doctors cupboard, as it hadnt even been passed for use in Western Australia………… I looked in the big pharmacy book and it said “not known to cause problems during use in pregnancy”……… yep 20 years later, I know the translation of this, it is “NEVER TESTED ON PREGNANT WOMEN””…. ie so of course , not known to cause problems in pregnancy………… and sorry my darling little Steven who died in agony, I dont think he was appreciative of being a zoloft lab rat, neither am I. 20 years now, of more zoloft et al deformities, finally suing in USA……………… I tried to report this to TGA 20 damn years ago, yes report filed in the damn bin. I tried again this year, tried twice, still not listed correctly, and I am told I can not see my own damn report, cause it is confidential? What bshit, just filed in the bin, yet again.

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    I cannot imagine how a baby could cope with benzodiazepines. It’s taken years for me to recover from benzodiazepines. I’ve been in withdrawal a lot longer than I ever took the pills.

    Why are doctors recommending these horrendous drugs except only in very, very short-term cases (days only)? The very life force of an adult can be sucked out quickly by these drugs. I can only imagine that infants must deal with much, much more agony that could indeed be very long term and may impact the rest of the infant’s life. The problem is that NO ONE KNOWS. Not even the “experts,” doctors.

    And when it comes to autism, doctors ought to start being very aware of the idea that drugs could cause this.

    Although doctors are known for not having enough time as it is to do research on their own, people’s lives are at risk if they continue to reassure patients that a drug will work, especially in pregnancy. The truth is that THEY DON’T REALLY KNOW. They’re just guessing. There are no guarantees with pills, period.

    And I’m so very sorry for your loss, ang. My heart goes out to you as well.

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