Treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors in the third trimester of pregnancy: effects on the infant

Drug Saf. 2005;28(7):565-81. doi: 10.2165/00002018-200528070-00002.


Pharmacotherapy in pregnant women is often necessary to treat chronic or relapsing depression or anxiety disorders. Studies that have evaluated the safety of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in early pregnancy have not shown an enhanced risk of major congenital malformations and these results may have contributed to the increasing use of these agents during pregnancy. Fewer studies have assessed the safety of SSRIs in the third trimester of pregnancy. This article reviews available human data on the safety of SSRI treatment in the third trimester. The main purpose is to present and discuss the existing literature on the risks to the infant and to suggest treatment guidelines for the use of SSRIs in late pregnancy. The use of SSRIs in the third trimester has shown various perinatal complications, most frequently respiratory distress, irritability and feeding problems. Further studies are needed to evaluate the frequency of these complications and to elucidate whether the symptoms represent a direct serotonergic effect or are a drug withdrawal effect. Studies have shown conflicting results with respect to whether SSRI exposure decreases birthweight and increases the risk of premature delivery. A few case reports have described intracerebral haemorrhage in neonates after maternal SSRI treatment, but it is not known whether the frequency of such complications is higher than in unexposed neonates. Data on possible long-term effects of prenatal SSRI exposure on psychomotor and behavioural development are very sparse. Our interpretation of the current literature suggests that the risk of not receiving adequate antidepressant treatment in the third trimester when indicated outweighs the risks of adverse events in the infant. Thus, adequate pharmacological treatment should not be withheld from a depressed pregnant woman in late pregnancy. However, the neonate should be monitored for possible adverse effects after maternal use of an SSRI in the third trimester.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange / drug effects*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Third / drug effects*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects
  • Risk Assessment / statistics & numerical data
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors / adverse effects*
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use


  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors