SSRIs During Pregnancy May Be Causing Birth Defects

Many women who were prescribed SSRIs during pregnancy have filed lawsuits against the drug manufacturers after having children with birth defects. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a common type of antidepressant medication, have been linked with an increase in birth defects such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), heart defects, cleft lip, and cleft palate. Some of the SSRI drugs named in recent lawsuits include the popular antidepressants Zoloft®, Prozac®, and Paxil®. If you were prescribed an SSRI during pregnancy and your child was born with one of these conditions, contact an experienced defective drugs attorney in your area to learn more about the litigation timeline.

A mother holding her baby's hand
A number of different SSRIs have been linked to an increased incidence of birth defects.

Birth Defects Linked to SSRIs

Countless studies have found links between SSRI use during pregnancy and birth defects, with a high rate of those birth defects diagnosed as ASD. In July 2006, the FDA issued a warning letter concerning an increased risk of persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN) when the mother took SSRIs during pregnancy.

Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN)

PPHN is a rare condition that is caused by a lack of oxygen and can result in damage to the baby’s heart, lungs, and brain. In about ten percent of cases, the condition ultimately proves to be fatal.

While in the womb, a baby receives oxygenated blood from the mother through the umbilical cord. At birth, the blood pressure in the baby’s lungs drops and the infant begins breathing on their own. With PPHN, this change never occurs and blood is continuously directed away from the baby’s lungs.

PPHN can be treated with techniques designed to increase blood oxygen levels, such as a ventilator or continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) machine. However, prolonged periods of oxygen deprivation can lead to other adverse conditions, including:

Heart Defects

SSRIs can cause a perforation of the coronary tissue, or a hole in the heart, which can affect the baby’s blood circulation. Atrial septal defects (ASD) are one of the most common heart defects associated with SSRI use during pregnancy. Perforations in the heart can affect the baby’s ability to breathe and feed properly, in addition to blood flow in the heart.


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Because ASD can affect pressure in the heart’s chambers, the condition can lead to imbalanced levels of blood in the atria and ventricles. This can cause overexertion of the coronary muscle and eventually lead to heart failure.

In addition to ASD, SSRI use during pregnancy is also associated with an an increased risk of other heart defects, including:

  • Tetralogy of Fallot
  • Hypoplastic left heart syndrome
  • Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA)
  • Transposition of the great arteries (TGA)
  • Total anomalous venous return (TAPVR)
  • Double outlet right ventricle (DORV)
  • Coarctation of the aorta (CoA)


Anencephaly is a neural tube defect that affects the development of the baby’s brain and skull. Most infants who suffer from the condition are missing the forebrain, the cerebrum, or the frontal lobe. Without these parts of the brain, affected infants cannot survive, and most are stillborn or only live for a few hours with the help of hydration and feeding tubes. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for anencephaly.

Cleft Lip

A baby’s head is formed during the first two months of development. Exposure to SSRI antidepressants during this time is thought to inhibit fetal growth, disrupting the normal growth of the fetus and preventing facial structures from fully forming. A cleft lip is a gap left in the upper lip when two structures do not fuse together. This major physical deformity can cause delays in speech, language, and socialization development for the affected child.

Cleft Palate

When the roof of the mouth fails to fully form, it is called a cleft palate. This condition often presents with a cleft lip, but can also occur on its own. A cleft palate can cause the same difficulties that are associated with a cleft lip, and can also interfere with feeding and breathing. This deformity commonly causes hearing loss and chronic ear infections. A child born with this condition may require several correctional surgeries, in addition to speech therapy and psychological counseling.

Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Respiratory distress syndrome is a condition that occurs when the lungs fail to develop properly, and is usually associated with Neonatal Adaptation Syndrome. In addition to breathing and feeding difficulties, respiratory distress syndrome can also compromise the child’s immune system, inhibiting the ability to protect the body from illness. This condition can also be a symptom of PPHN.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) includes a group of developmental disorders that range in symptoms, degree of disabilities, and skill development. Signs and symptoms of ASD may include speech and communication difficulties, trouble with social interactions, repetitive behaviors, or obsessive interests. Symptoms of ASD will usually become apparent in your child by age 2, and many children are diagnosed with Autism by age 7.  

Find an Experienced Defective Drug Attorney

If your baby has suffered a birth defect after you were prescribed an SSRI medication during pregnancy, you may be eligible for compensation from the drug manufacturer. Contact an experienced pharmaceutical attorney today to schedule a complimentary case evaluation.

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