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Why I’m hesitant to write about the latest birth defects study

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is the Health Editor at SheKnows. She is a bioethicist and writer specializing in sexual and reproductive health and the intersection of bioethics and popular culture. She is an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham ...

Antidepressants may be linked to stillbirths — but let’s not stigmatize women for taking them

Another day, another study that comes out naming something else that women could do wrong during pregnancy. Yes, maternal health is extremely important and the more we know about what results in a successful pregnancy the better, but once again, I’m almost hesitant to share the results of the new research indicating that a certain type of antidepressant could result in greater risk of birth defects or stillbirths.

When covering stories like this, it can be tempting — and easier — to frame it as “here’s something else pregnant people shouldn’t do that might hurt their babies.” The problem is, this kind of coverage, lacking nuance, only adds to the blanket blame placed on women if anything goes wrong with the pregnancy. In this particular case, the lazy interpretation of “all pregnant women who take antidepressants during the first trimester are knowingly hurting their babies” is too much of a generalization, and could have lasting consequences for pregnant women in need of mental health treatment.

More: Why I went on antidepressants during my pregnancy

First, the facts:

The study found that women who took a specific type of antidepressants (SSRIs) during the first trimester were at a small — but still significantly greater — risk of having babies with birth defects or who are stillborn than those who did not take SSRIs. For those who appreciate the numbers, 6 in 200 pregnancies resulted in birth defects or stillbirths when the mother was not on SSRIs, while that number rose to 7 in 200 when SSRIs were taken.

More: How to manage depression during pregnancy

Of course, the more information that is available to help pregnant women make informed choices while expecting is a good thing. It’s just important to provide this information in a way that is accurate and raises awareness rather than panic. For many women, treating depression is a crucial part of wellness during pregnancy. They should be trusted to take this information, discuss it with their doctor and come up with the treatment plan that works best for both the mother and potential child.

More: Thank you, Kristen Bell, for flipping the script on mental illness

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