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Byatt tells Reuters Health new study will help pregnant women decide about antidepressants

Risk to newborns lower than thought previously; should be weighed against risks of untreated depression

  Nancy Byatt, DO, assistant professor of psychiatry and an expert on depression in women during and after pregnancy.
  Nancy Byatt, DO, assistant professor of psychiatry at UMass Medical School and an expert on depression in women during and after pregnancy.

A new study on the effect of antidepressants on newborns when taken in late pregnancy by mothers will help women and their doctors make informed decisions about treating moderate to severe depression during pregnancy, according to UMass Medical School psychiatrist Nancy Byatt, DO. Dr. Byatt, assistant professor of psychiatry and an expert on depression in women during and after pregnancy, spoke about the study to Reuters Health.

“Although the study suggests that there may be a modest association between persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPHN) and maternal use of antidepressants in late pregnancy, the absolute risk is small,” she said. “This small risk must be considered in the context of the risk of untreated illness.”

Byatt, who was not involved in the study published June 2 by the Journal of the American Medical Association, serves as medical director of the Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Project for Moms, a pilot program to help primary care physicians identify and treat perinatal depression.

Researchers found that among 128,950 publicly insured pregnant women across the United States who filled at least one prescription for antidepressants during the 90 days before delivery, the increased risk of their babies being born with PPHN versus women who did not take antidepressants were not statistically significant. The study examined outcomes for women who took both SSRI and non-SSRI medications, with SSRIs used most often.

“Late pregnancy is an important time in which it is essential to provide the best possible mental health treatment,” Byatt emphasized. “"SSRIs are well characterized, and although risks have been reported, the overall data is reassuring."

Learn more about the study and read more from Byatt’s Reuters interview in Psych Congress Network. Byatt was also interviewed about the study by The Verge.

Related links on UMassMedNow:
Expert’s Corner: Consider all options for treating depression during pregnancy
More help on the way for Mass. women with depression during and after pregnancy
Byatt to Telegram & Gazette: postpartum depression can interfere with mother-child bond