Antidepressant exposure during pregnancy and congenital malformations: is there an association? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the best evidence

J Clin Psychiatry. 2013 Apr;74(4):e293-308. doi: 10.4088/JCP.12r07966.


Objective: Depression is often not optimally treated during pregnancy, partially because of conflicting data regarding antidepressant medication risk. This meta-analysis was conducted to determine whether antenatal antidepressant exposure is associated with congenital malformations and to assess the effect of known methodological limitations.

Data sources: EMBASE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, and MEDLINE were searched from their start dates to June 2010. Keywords of various combinations were used, including, but not limited to depressive/mood disorder, pregnancy, antidepressant drug/agent, congenital malformation, and cardiac malformation.

Study selection: English language studies reporting congenital malformations associated with antidepressants were included. Of 3,074 abstracts reviewed, 735 studies were retrieved and 27 studies were included.

Data extraction: Two reviewers working independently assessed article quality. Data on use of any antidepressant, including fluoxetine and paroxetine specifically, were extracted. Outcomes included congenital malformations, major congenital malformations, cardiovascular defects, septal heart defects (ventral septal defects and atrial septal defects), and ventral septal defects only.

Results: Nineteen studies were above quality threshold and make up the primary meta-analyses. Pooled relative risks (RRs) were derived by using random-effects methods. Antidepressant exposure was not associated with congenital malformations (RR = 0.93; 95% CI, 0.85-1.02; P = .113) or major malformations (RR = 1.07; 95% CI, 0.99-1.17; P = .095). However, increased risk for cardiovascular malformations (RR = 1.36; 95% CI, 1.08-1.71; P = .008) and septal heart defects (RR = 1.40; 95% CI, 1.10-1.77; P = .005) were found; the RR for ventral septal defects was similar to septal defects, although not significant (RR = 1.54; 95% CI, 0.71-3.33; P = .274). Pooled effects were significant for paroxetine and cardiovascular malformations (RR = 1.43; 95% CI, 1.08-1.88; P = .012). These results are contrasted with those addressing methodological limitations but are typically consistent.

Conclusions: Overall, antidepressants do not appear to be associated with an increased risk of congenital malformations, but statistical significance was found for cardiovascular malformations. Results were robust in several sensitivity analyses. Given that the RRs are marginal, they may be the result of uncontrolled confounders. Although the RRs were statistically significant, none reached clinically significant levels.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Drug-Induced / epidemiology*
  • Adult
  • Antidepressive Agents / adverse effects*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / trends
  • Female
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects* / chemically induced
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects* / epidemiology


  • Antidepressive Agents