In a finding that may indeed raise eyebrows in the academic circles, a new study that was presented at Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) 2018 Meeting has found that Anti-depressant treatment of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) during pregnancy is associated with better cognitive skills in 12-year-olds.
This study was conducted by Dr. Tim Oberlander, a developmental pediatrician and investigator at BC Children’s Hospital, and colleagues to investigates the complex relationships between pre-birth exposure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants, and thinking and attention skills in 12-year-olds.
SSRIs are a popular class of antidepressants commonly used for the treatment of mothers’ mood disorder during pregnancy. They affect the level of serotonin, a chemical that plays a critical role in the regulation of attention and mood.
Dr. Oberlander, in collaboration with Dr. Adele Diamond, UBC professor, and a Canada Research Chair, followed 51 children from 26 weeks of pregnancy to 12 years of age. In this part of the longitudinal cohort study, the investigators assessed mom’s mood during and after pregnancy and the child’s executive functions (EFs) at 12 years of age. EFs consist of a series of skills that help kids thrive in the classroom and workplace, including flexible, creative problem solving, the ability to focus and pay attention, and self-control.
Based on the research, the following inferences were made by the researchers:
- Children with SSRI exposure had better EF skills, even when controlling for mother’s mood during pregnancy and when the child was 12 years old
- Better EFs were also observed in the same children at 6 years
- At 12 years, though (unlike at 6 years), differences in SSRI exposure while in utero and differences in the child’s EFs did not vary with measures of the child’s mood (anxiety or depression) or verbal ability
“These are important early findings and further research is needed to examine whether ‘better’ cognitive skills in children with antidepressant exposure reflect a developmental advantage in some ways but also perhaps a risk in other ways, such as perhaps increased anxiety,” said Dr. Oberlander. “Our findings when the children were 3 and 6 years of age indicated increased anxiety, though the absence of this at 12 years might indicate that as EFs improve further children are able to use them to help calm themselves.”
“The impact of prenatal antidepressant exposure is not a simple cause and effect,” says Dr. Oberlander. “When it comes to assessing the long-term impact of SSRI exposure before birth, genes and family-life play a powerful role in influencing how a child will be affected.”
“Depression during pregnancy and beyond is a major public health problem for mothers and their children,” Dr. Oberlander added. “Non-treatment is never an option. It is really important that pregnant women discuss all treatment options with their physicians or midwives.”
“Selective serotonin reuptake (SSRI) antidepressant treatment during pregnancy is associated with better performance on a computerized task to measure cognitive skills in 12-year-olds,” concluded the authors.