Prenatal antidepressant exposure and child behavioural outcomes at 7 years of age: a study within the Danish National Birth Cohort

BJOG. 2016 Nov;123(12):1919-1928. doi: 10.1111/1471-0528.13611. Epub 2015 Sep 15.


Objective: To investigate the impact of prenatal antidepressant exposure on behavioural problems in children at 7 years of age.

Design: Nationwide population-based study.

Setting: Danish National Birth Cohort.

Population: A cohort of 49 178 pregnant women recruited between 1996 and 2002.

Methods: Data obtained from computer-assisted telephone interviews twice during pregnancy were used to identify children born to: (i) depressed women who took antidepressants during pregnancy (n = 210); (ii) depressed women who did not take any antidepressants during pregnancy (n = 231); and (iii) healthy women who were not depressed (n = 48 737). Childhood behavioural problems at 7 years of age were examined using the validated Danish parent-report version of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ).

Main outcome measures: SDQ scores.

Results: No associations were observed between prenatal antidepressant exposure and abnormal SDQ scores for overall problem behaviour (adjusted relative risk, aRR 1.00; 95% confidence interval, 95% CI 0.49-2.05), hyperactivity/inattention (aRR 0.99; 95% CI 0.56-1.75), or peer problems (aRR 1.04; 95% CI 0.57-1.91). Although prenatal antidepressant exposure appeared to be associated with abnormal SDQ scores on the subscales of emotional symptoms (aRR 1.68; 95% CI 1.18-2.38) and conduct problems (aRR 1.58; 95% CI 1.03-2.42), these associations were significantly attenuated following adjustment for antenatal mood status (aRR 1.20; 95% CI 0.85-1.70 and aRR 1.19; 95% CI 0.77 1.83, respectively). Untreated prenatal depression was associated with an increased risk of all behavioural outcomes evaluated, compared with unexposed children, with significant attenuation following adjustment for antenatal mood status.

Conclusions: The results of this study suggest that independent of maternal illness, prenatal antidepressant exposure is not associated with an increased risk of behavioural problems in children at 7 years of age.

Tweetable abstract: Prenatal antidepressant exposure is not associated with an increased risk of child behavioural problems.

Keywords: Antidepressive agents; child development; pregnancy; prenatal exposure; selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antidepressive Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antidepressive Agents / adverse effects*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Child Behavior Disorders / epidemiology
  • Denmark / epidemiology
  • Depression / drug therapy*
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / drug therapy*
  • Pregnancy Complications / epidemiology
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / chemically induced*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / epidemiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Antidepressive Agents