Studies have often associated antidepressant use during pregnancy with heightened autism risk
But, according to studies published in the journal JAMA, the heightened the correlation between antidepressants and autism is much weaker than previously stated.
“If you just look at the population as a whole, children born to women who take antidepressants are more likely to be diagnosed with autism than children born to mothers who don’t take them,” explained Brian D’Onofrio, director of clinical training in the department of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University and co-author of one of the studies, according to TIME.
“But when you try to account for all the other factors that could help explain that association, like comparing siblings and looking at the timing of the exposure, the association went away. That suggests that the link is not due to the actual exposure from the drugs during pregnancy, but due to other factors.”
The newly published studies found that when looking at other factors, the severity of depression experienced by the expecting mother played as much of a role in the baby’s likelihood of developing autism.
According to Autism Speaks, autism affects 1 in 68 children, with boys being five times more likely than girls to be autistic. The stigma around autism has oftentimes been attributed to lack of information and conversation around what being autistic, and how it comes to be, really means. On a child level, platforms like Sesame Street are shedding light on the reality of a child’s life living with autism by introducing a new character, Julia, who is autistic.
The JAMA studies go on further to remove the guilt around the subject, especially for expectant moms who may believe that their mental illnesses are to blame for their child’s diagnosis.
“When taking everything together, it’s quite reasonable to say that these are low-risk medications, especially when you consider the potential risk of not taking them for some women,” says Dr. Simone Vigod, an author of one of the studies, according to TIME. “Women with children with autism worry that they did something wrong. These data should be reassuring that the likelihood autism is related to taking antidepressants is pretty low.”