Maternal Use of Specific Antidepressant Medications During Early Pregnancy and the Risk of Selected Birth Defects

JAMA Psychiatry. 2020 Dec 1;77(12):1246-1255. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.2453.


Importance: Antidepressants are commonly used during pregnancy, but limited information is available about individual antidepressants and specific birth defect risks.

Objective: To examine associations between individual antidepressants and specific birth defects with and without attempts to partially account for potential confounding by underlying conditions.

Design, setting, and participants: The population-based, multicenter case-control National Birth Defects Prevention Study (October 1997-December 2011) included cases with selected birth defects who were identified from surveillance systems; controls were randomly sampled live-born infants without major birth defects. Mothers of cases and controls participated in an interview after the expected delivery date. The data were analyzed after the completion of the National Birth Defects Prevent Study's data collection.

Exposures: Self-reported antidepressant exposure was coded to indicate monotherapy exposure to antidepressants.

Main outcomes and measures: We used multivariable logistic regression to calculate adjusted odds ratios (aORs) and 95% confidence intervals for associations between maternal antidepressant use and birth defects. We compared early pregnancy antidepressant-exposed women with those without antidepressant exposure and, to partially account for confounding by underlying maternal conditions, those exposed to antidepressants outside of the birth defect development critical period.

Results: This study included 30 630 case mothers of infants with birth defects and 11 478 control mothers (aged 12-53 years). Early pregnancy antidepressant use was reported by 1562 case mothers (5.1%) and 467 control mothers (4.1%), for whom elevated aORs were observed for individual selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and selected congenital heart defects (CHD) (eg, fluoxetine and anomalous pulmonary venous return: aOR, 2.56; 95% CI, 1.10-5.93; this association was attenuated after partially accounting for underlying conditions: aOR, 1.89; 95% CI, 0.56-6.42). This pattern was observed for many SSRI-CHD combinations. Associations between SSRIs and non-CHD birth defects often persisted or strengthened after partially accounting for underlying conditions (eg, citalopram and diaphragmatic hernia: aOR, 5.11; 95% CI, 1.29-20.24). Venlafaxine had elevated associations with multiple defects that persisted after partially accounting for underlying conditions (eg, anencephaly and craniorachischisis: aOR, 9.14; 95% CI, 1.91-43.83).

Conclusions and relevance: We found some associations between maternal antidepressant use and specific birth defects. Venlafaxine was associated with the highest number of defects, which needs confirmation given the limited literature on venlafaxine use during pregnancy and risk for birth defects. Our results suggest confounding by underlying conditions should be considered when assessing risk. Fully informed treatment decision-making requires balancing the risks and benefits of proposed interventions against those of untreated depression or anxiety.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Drug-Induced / etiology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bupropion / adverse effects*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / drug therapy*
  • Pregnancy Trimester, First
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / adverse effects*
  • Serotonin and Noradrenaline Reuptake Inhibitors / adverse effects*
  • Venlafaxine Hydrochloride / adverse effects*
  • Young Adult


  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Serotonin and Noradrenaline Reuptake Inhibitors
  • Bupropion
  • Venlafaxine Hydrochloride