Birth Defects Caused By Drugs

Drugs like Zoloft, Paxil and Prozac are commonly used by women who are experiencing depression during pregnancy. These drugs belong to a broader class called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI). Some other brand names for SSRIs are Paxil, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Prozac, Celexa, Lexapro, and Effexor. The use of these drugs is not without any disadvantage. They are known to cause a number of birth defects. Therefore you are advised to thoroughly discuss the details with your physician before you start taking any type of SSRI during pregnancy.

Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN)

A number of studies have been conducted by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to determine if the use of SSRIs during pregnancy leads to Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN). PPHN is a rare heart and lung condition in which the newborn baby is unable to adapt to breathing outside the womb and might require intensive support including a ventilator. Severe cases of PPHN are characterized by multiple organ damage including brain damage and even death.

Some of the earlier studies conducted by Chambers et al. in 2006,revealed a six percent higher risk of developing PPHN in those newborns whose mothers had been taking SSRIS after twenty weeks of gestation. A more recent study by Källén, et al.revealed a significant relationship between the occurrences of PPHN and the use of SSRIs (during the first trimester of pregnancy). The 2009 study by Andrade et al. did not find any association between SSRI exposure during the third trimester of pregnancy and PPHN. However in December 2011, FDA updated its safety warning. After reviewing more recent studies which yielded conflicting findings, it was concluded that a final decision cannot yet be established about the link between the use of SSRI and occurrence of PPHN.

According to drug watch, SSRIs are assigned a safety rating of grade C. Drugs which generally fall in this category are known to be harmful to laboratory animals. The organization has reported a number of birth defects in newborns whose mothers have been exposed to SSRIs. These include:

Heart Defects

Some babies are diagnosed with holes in the heart. These are Septal defects; Atrial Septal defects (ASD) and Ventricular Septal Defects (VSD). This condition adversely impacts blood circulation.


This is a fatal birth defect which interferes with the functioning of the brain

Cleft lip and Palate

These are deformities which occur due to gaps which are left when facial structures are being formed. They typically occur on the lip and mouth and hamper the child’s breathing, feeding and speech development.

Respiratory distress Syndrome

These are breathing difficulties that occur in premature babies due to underdeveloped lungs.  Respiratory distress is also a symptom of Neonatal Adaptation Syndrome, which researchers have associated with the use of SSRIs by mothers in the third trimester.

If you experience any side effects due to the use of these drugs, you are encouraged to report your problem to FDA's MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program.