Babies exposed to an antidepressant or a mood disorder during fetal life did not have any more signs of irritability, difficulty feeding, sleep disturbances and respiratory problems two to four weeks after birth than babies who were not exposed. Instead, the major factor associated with newborn problems was preterm birth, according to a new Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine Program in Public Health study.
Similar studies have assessed babies earlier – less than two weeks – but this study looked at babies two to four weeks after birth. The additional time led the scientists to determine preterm birth as the main cause of these neonatal signs of agitation, excessive crying, rigidity, tremors and restlessness, typically called Neonatal Discontinuation Syndrome (NDS).
Many women are concerned about taking antidepressants because they’ve heard the presence of these neonatal signs are more common in babies exposed to antidepressants.
“I believe that is true directly after birth, but this study shows those signs appear to be short-lived,” said senior author Dr. Katherine Wisner, the Norman and Helen Asher Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Obstetrics and Gynecology and a Northwestern Medicine psychiatrist. “At two to four weeks postpartum, the signs women were reporting to us were more associated with preterm birth rather than whether their babies were exposed.”
The additional two weeks also gave parents time to adjust to their newborns at home to better assess if their infants’ behaviors were of concern to them. They could look for signs that couldn’t be readily assessed during typical, 10- to 15-minute doctor examinations, such as length of sleep post-feeding, fever, projectile vomiting and stool characteristics.
The study was published May 24 in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.