Depression drug treatment outcomes in pregnancy and the postpartum period: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Obstet Gynecol. 2014 Sep;124(3):526-534. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000000410.


Objective: To evaluate the comparative benefits and harms in both mother and child of antidepressant treatment for depression in pregnant or postpartum women.

Data sources: MEDLINE, the Cochrane Library, CINAHL, Scopus, (inception to July 2013), manufacturers, and reference lists.

Methods of study selection: Two reviewers independently selected studies of pregnant women with depression comparing antidepressants with each other, placebo or no treatment, or nondrug treatments. Studies making comparisons among women taking antidepressants for any reason and those not taking antidepressants (depression status unknown) were used to fill gaps in the evidence.

Tabulation, integration, and results: Dual study data extraction and quality assessment were used. Six randomized controlled trials and 15 observational studies provided evidence. Low-strength evidence suggested neonates of pregnant women with depression taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors had higher risk of respiratory distress than did neonates of untreated women (13.9% compared with 7.8%; P<.001) but no difference in risk of neonatal convulsions (0.14% compared with 0.11%; P=.64) or preterm birth (17% compared with 10%; P=.07). Indirect evidence from studies of pregnant women receiving antidepressants for mixed or unreported reasons compared with pregnant women not taking antidepressants (depression status unknown) suggested future research should focus on congenital anomalies and autism spectrum and attention deficit disorders in the child. In postpartum depression, low-strength evidence suggested symptom response was not improved when sertraline was added to psychotherapy or when cognitive-behavioral therapy was added to paroxetine. Evidence was insufficient for other outcomes, including depression symptoms, functional capacity, breastfeeding, and infant and child development. A serious limitation is the lack of study populations of exclusively depressed pregnant and postpartum women.

Conclusion: Evidence about the comparative benefits and harms of pharmacologic treatment of depression in pregnant and postpartum women was largely inadequate to allow informed decisions about treatment. Considering the prevalence of depression, filling this gap is essential.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antidepressive Agents / adverse effects*
  • Antidepressive Agents / classification
  • Breast Feeding / adverse effects
  • Comparative Effectiveness Research
  • Depression, Postpartum / drug therapy*
  • Depressive Disorder / drug therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Observational Studies as Topic
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / drug therapy*
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antidepressive Agents