Importance: Speech/language, scholastic, and motor disorders are common in children. It is unknown whether exposure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) during pregnancy influences susceptibility to these disorders.
Objective: To examine whether SSRI exposure during pregnancy is associated with speech/language, scholastic, and motor disorders in offspring up to early adolescence.
Design, setting, and participants: This prospective birth cohort study examined national population-based register data in Finland from 1996 to 2010. The sampling frame includes 845 345 pregnant women and their singleton offspring with data on maternal use of antidepressants and depression-related psychiatric disorders during pregnancy.
Exposures: There were 3 groups of offspring: 15 596 were in the SSRI-exposed group, ie, had mothers diagnosed as having depression-related psychiatric disorders with a history of purchasing SSRIs during pregnancy; 9537 were in the unmedicated group, ie, had mothers diagnosed as having depression-related psychiatric disorders without a history of purchasing SSRIs during pregnancy; and 31 207 were in the unexposed group, ie, had mothers without a psychiatric diagnosis or a history of purchasing SSRIs.
Main outcomes and measures: Cumulative incidence of speech/language, scholastic, or motor disorders (829, 187, and 285 instances, respectively) from birth to 14 years. All hypotheses tested were formulated before data collection.
Results: Of the 56 340 infants included in the final cohort, 28 684 (50.9%) were male and 48 782 (86.6%) were 9 years or younger. The mean (SD) ages of children at diagnosis were 4.43 (1.67), 3.55 (2.67), and 7.73 (2.38) for speech/language, scholastic, and motor disorders, respectively. Offspring of mothers who purchased SSRIs at least twice during pregnancy had a significant 37% increased risk of speech/language disorders compared with offspring in the unmedicated group. The cumulative hazard of speech/language disorders was 0.0087 in the SSRI-exposed group vs 0.0061 in the unmedicated group (hazard ratio, 1.37; 95% CI, 1.11-1.70; P = .004). There was a significantly increased risk of these disorders in offspring in the SSRI-exposed and unmedicated groups compared with offspring in the unexposed group. For scholastic and motor disorders, there were no differences between offspring in the SSRI-exposed group and in the unmedicated group.
Conclusions and relevance: Exposure to SSRIs during pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of speech/language disorders. This finding may have implications for understanding associations between SSRIs and child development.