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Swansea University academics are calling for improved and targeted healthcare for pregnant women and new mothers who experience depression, following a new study looking at the impact of depression and anti-depressants.

Professor Sue Jordan from the University’s College of Human and Health Science, who led the study, says the findings could be used to help clinicians improve care for women during pregnancy and after they have given birth. This new research entitled Antidepressants and perinatal outcomes, including breastfeeding, is published today in the PLOS ONE journal.

To investigate the health of babies born to women who had been treated for depression, the study team used data curated by the SAIL Databank, in collaboration with SAIL Databank’s analytical services team, based in Swansea University Medical School.  

Researchers examined data from more than 100,000 babies born between 2000 and 2010.  This included 2043 babies [1.9%] whose mothers were prescribed antidepressants throughout their pregnancy and 4252 whose prescriptions stopped in the first trimester.

The study gives key insights into the outcomes recorded, such as preterm birth or low birth weight and also shows, for the first time, which babies were being breastfed at 6-8 weeks. 

A key finding of the study was:

  • Although the analysis does not detail the causes and reasons why, women prescribed antidepressants, particularly high dose selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, were less likely to be breastfeeding at 6-8 weeks, and might be more likely to have babies with low birth weights.

Professor Jordan said: “Our study makes for sobering reading: the data show which women are vulnerable to reduced breastfeeding rates, preterm delivery, and giving birth to small babies. The data should be considered alongside our previous reports of increased risks of congenital anomalies following antidepressant prescriptions in early pregnancy.

“Women prescribed antidepressants could and should be identified from primary care prescription records and targeted for additional support before conception. Our analysis makes a very strong case for closer monitoring for women prescribed antidepressants, including scans in the third trimester (or alternative continuous monitoring technology) to check on the baby’s growth and development.”

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