Psychiatric Medications and Pregnancy Risks

Psychiatric medications are often prescribed to young women who are not warned that these drugs can be extremely difficult to stop. Yet taking these drugs during pregnancy is risky. Learn more about psychiatric medications and pregnancy risks below.

ADHD Stimulants

A 2018 study found that ADHD medication use (including methylphenidate and amphetamine salts) in pregnancy was associated with up to a three-fold increased risk of at least 3 different birth defects: gastroschisis, omphalocele, and transverse limb deficiency.

Mood Stabilizers/Antipsychotics

A 2014 study found that use of mood stabilizers and antipsychotics during pregnancy was associated with a three-fold increased risk of newborn health problems resulting in special care/intensive care for the baby. Respiratory distress, pre-term births, cognitive abnormalities, and withdrawal symptoms in the baby were all associated with use of these drugs.


A 2019 report by France’s National Agency for the Safety of Medicines (ANSM) found that valproate (Depakote) use in pregnancy is associated with a five-fold increase in birth defect risk. “Valproate is the antiepileptic which causes the most malformations. It also leads to a high risk of neurodevelopmental disorders (cognitive and behavioural).” Topiramate (Topamax) increased the risk three-fold.

SSRIs Anti-depressants

A 2014 study found a four-fold increase in “severe congenital heart defects” in newborns who were exposed to SSRIs in the womb.

A 2016 study used EEG to assess newborn brain function. Newborns who had been exposed to SSRIs while in the womb had multiple “abnormalities” in brain function. Maternal depression and anxiety were not associated with these abnormalities. Only SSRI use was.

Expectant mothers who use a common antidepressant during pregnancy may be likelier to deliver babies with birth defects, according to a new study. Up to 8% of pregnant women are prescribed antidepressants, and scientists in recent years have sought to understand how these drugs affect infants. And while birth defects are rare, venlafaxine, or Effexor, was linked with the most birth defects, including congenital heart defects. This association existed even after the scientists accounted for other underlying conditions. The study used data from two groups of U.S. women — over 1,500 mothers of babies with birth defects, and nearly 500 mothers of infants without congenital defects — who used one of six common antidepressants. The study doesn’t establish cause and effect, so more research is needed to determine the role of specific antidepressants on birth defects.