Safety of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors in Pregnancy: A Review of Current Evidence

CNS Drugs. 2016 Jun;30(6):499-515. doi: 10.1007/s40263-016-0338-3.


Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed antidepressant medications worldwide. However, over the past decade, their use during pregnancy, a period of extreme vulnerability to the onset of depression, has become highly concerning to patients and their healthcare providers in terms of safety to the developing fetus. Exposure to SSRIs in pregnancy has been associated with miscarriage, premature delivery, neonatal complications, birth defects-specifically cardiac defects-and, more recently, neurodevelopmental disorders in childhood, specifically autism spectrum disorders. Studies addressing the effect of individual SSRIs indicate a small but higher risk for birth defects with maternal fluoxetine and paroxetine use. Though the excess in absolute risk is small, it may still be of concern to some patients. Meanwhile, antenatal depression itself is associated with adverse perinatal outcomes, and discontinuing antidepressant treatment during pregnancy is associated with a high risk of relapse of depression. Whether the observed adverse fetal effects are related to the mother's medication use or her underlying maternal illness remains difficult to determine. It is important that every pregnant woman being treated with an SSRI (or considering such treatment) carefully weighs the risks of treatment against the risk of untreated depression for both herself and her child. The importance of recognizing a higher risk for the development of adverse outcomes lies in the potential for surveillance and possibly a timely intervention. Therefore, we recommend that pregnant women exposed to any SSRI in early pregnancy be offered options for prenatal diagnosis through ultrasound examinations and fetal echocardiography to detect the presence of birth defects. Tapering off or switching to other therapy in early pregnancy, if appropriate for the individual, may also be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Depression / drug therapy*
  • Depressive Disorder / drug therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / drug therapy*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors / adverse effects*


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors