HealthDay News — Prenatal exposure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) is associated with increased likelihood of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental delays (DDs) in boys, according to researchers.

Among 996 mother-child pairs that participated in the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) Study, the likelihood of prenatal SSRI exposure was significantly increased in boys with an ASD versus those with typical development (odds ratio, 2.91; 95% CI: 1.07-7.93), Rebecca A. Harrington, PhD, MPH, from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, and colleagues reported in Pediatrics.

The strongest correlation between SSRI and ASDs was observed among those with exposure in the first trimester (OR 3.22; 95% CI: 1.17-8.84).

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There was also increased likelihood of SSRI exposure for boys with developmental delay (OR, 3.39; 95% CI: 0.98- 11.75), which was strongest for exposure in the third trimester (OR 4.98; 95% CI: 1.20 to 20.62). Similar findings were seen for mothers with an anxiety or mood disorder.

Overall, 492 children who participated in the study had an ASD diagnosis, 154 had a developmental delay and 320 were classified as typical development. Prenatal SSRI use, maternal mental health history, and sociodemographic information were ascertained in interviews with biological mothers.

Prevalence of prenatal SSRI exposure was lowest among boys and girls classified as typical development (3.4%), the researchers found. The correlation between SSRI exposure and children in the ASD and developmental delay groups did not differ significant (5.9% and 5.2%, respectively).

“Because maternal depression itself carries risks for the fetus, the benefits of prenatal SSRI use should be carefully weighed against potential harms,” the researchers wrote.


  1. Harrington RA et al. Pediatrics. 2014; doi: 10.1542/peds.2013-3406