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Clin Epidemiol. 2018 Nov 1;10:1599-1612. doi: 10.2147/CLEP.S180618. eCollection 2018.

Maternal depression and antidepressant use during pregnancy and the risk of autism spectrum disorder in offspring.

Author information

Boston Collaborative Drug Surveillance Program, Boston University School of Public Health, Lexington, MA 02421, USA,



Results of some studies suggest that prenatal antidepressant exposure increases the risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in offspring, while other studies suggest that depression independently increases the risk of having a child with ASD. Thus, confounding by indication is a concern.


The aim of this study was to estimate the risk of ASD in offspring of women who were exposed to antidepressants and/or had depression during pregnancy compared to unexposed women.

Materials and methods:

We conducted a cohort study with nested sibling case-control analysis. Using the UK Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD), we identified mother- baby pairs where the mother had ≥12 months of history before the delivery date and the child had ≥3 years of follow-up. Exposures during pregnancy were classified as 1) depression treated with antidepressants, 2) untreated depression, 3) other indications for antidepressant use, and 4) 4:1 match of unexposed women with no history of depression or antidepressant use. We calculated the prevalence of ASD and relative risk (RR) with 95% CI. In the sibling analysis, we compared exposure among ASD cases to that of non-ASD siblings born to the same mother. We calculated ORs and 95% CIs for women with treated and untreated depression, compared to unexposed.


We identified 2,154 offspring with ASD among 194,494 mother-baby pairs. Compared to unexposed, the RR of ASD was 1.72 (95% CI 1.54-1.93) for treated depression and 1.50 (95% CI 1.28-1.75) for untreated depression, while the RR was not elevated in women who received antidepressants for other indications (RR =0.73, 95% CI 0.41-1.29). Additional analyses to assess the effects of severity of depression suggest that the risk of ASD in offspring increases with increasing severity, not with the antidepressant treatment. The results of the sibling analysis were similar to the main analysis.


Women with depression during pregnancy have an increased risk of having a child with ASD, regardless of antidepressant use.


antidepressants; autism; autism spectrum disorder; depression; pregnancy

Conflict of interest statement

Disclosure The authors report no conflicts of interest in this work.

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