Zoloft During Pregnancy and Birth Defects

by on May 21, 2012

Zoloft (Sertraline) is an antidepressant that is commonly prescribed to women during pregnancy. Zoloft is a category C medication and patients should consult with their doctor if they plan to become pregnant or have become pregnant during treatment because of the possibility of side effects and certain birth defects.

What is a Category C Medication?

The FDA categorizes medications for pregnant women in order to assist women and their doctors in make the best and most safe decisions concerning their health and pregnancy. If a medication is labeled as category C that means it has not been tested on humans, but may have been tested on animals. The FDA simply gives it a category C classification to make women aware of the risks.

In the case of Zoloft, studies have been done to understand its affect on pregnancy in rats and rabbits. The results shown in these studies may not be the same in humans.

What Happened in the Studies?

In these studies the rats and rabbits were given four times the maximum recommended dose, based on their size. The animals that were given Zoloft during the period of organogenesis showed decreased bone growth in fetuses. In the animals given Zoloft during the last trimester and throughout lactation there was an increase in the number of stillborn offspring. There were also an increased number of deaths in young under four days old.

These studies were only done on animals and therefore Zoloft can still be used during pregnancy if the perceived benefits outweighs the potential risks.

Zoloft and Birth Defects

There have been no formal studies, but some women who have taken the medication during pregnancy have reported birth defects thought to be caused by Zoloft. These women reported that their children had respiratory distress, cyanosis, apnea, seizures, feeding difficulty, hypoglycemia, tremors, and constant crying. It is thought that these could simply be withdrawal symptoms but they are also consistent with serotonin syndrome.

A generic study also shows that children exposed to SSRIs, like Zoloft, during the last trimester are at an increased risk for persistent pulmonary hypertension. This can lead to death in some infants.

Can Zoloft Be Taken During Pregnancy?

Women taking Zoloft should talk with their doctor before becoming pregnant or shortly after becoming pregnant. Patients should be advised of the possible risks to their child. Some women choose to stop taking Zoloft during the third trimester but this has been shown to cause a relapse of major depression.

The only safe way to approach taking Zoloft during pregnancy is to discuss it with a doctor and weigh the positive and negative aspects of it. There have been no significant studies to show whether Zoloft will cause birth defects. There are healthy children who are born to women who have taken Zoloft during their pregnancy. It is a personal decision between the mother and the doctor whether Zoloft will be continued during pregnancy.

On average, Zoloft is a very safe medication that can help treat those suffering with anxiety or depression. It may cause birth defects in some children but there have been no significant studies to determine either way.