There may be a slightly increased risk for poorer motor development in children whose mothers are exposed to antidepressant medications during pregnancy, according to research published in Pediatrics.

While the findings do not warrant a change in current prescribing practices, researchers advocate monitoring at-risk children in light of the increased use of antidepressants during pregnancy.

The prevalence of depression during pregnancy is between 8.5% and 11%, and up to 12.7% of women have a major depressive episode during pregnancy. The prescription rates for antidepressants during pregnancy is increasing; however, research on the effects of exposure to antidepressants in utero is lacking.

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In this study, researchers assessed the potential effect of antenatal antidepressant exposure on child motor development by analyzing data from 18 previously published cohort and case control studies.

The pooled results of the meta-analyses of random effects models revealed an association between antenatal exposure to antidepressants and poorer motor outcomes in children (effect size=0.22; 95% CI, 0.07-0.37) with a moderate degree of heterogeneity (I2 = 56.6%). The researchers noted, however, that “the marked methodological variation among studies and the limited control for possible confounds warrants cautious interpretation of these findings.”

The limitations of the study include variations in measurement of both exposure and motor development across previously published studies, and that few studies provide follow-up data in later childhood.

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While the clinical implications of these findings remain unclear, future investigation of the long-term motor and other developmental outcomes in children who exhibit neonatal abstinence syndrome at birth would be clinically useful. Researchers recommend that “general practitioners and pediatricians involved in the care of children who are exposed to antidepressant medication during pregnancy might routinely ask about progress towards the achievement of motor milestones with appropriate follow-up if parents report concerns.”


Grove K, Lewis AJ, Galbally M. Prenatal antidepressant exposure and child motor development: a meta-analysis. Pediatrics. 2018;142(1):e20180356.