Mental Illness Drugs and Pregnancy

Antipsychotic medication during pregnancy linked to lower motor skills scores in babies

April 4, 2012 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

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(dailyRx News) Approximately two-thirds of all women with a history of mental illness give birth, and it can be tough to figure out which medications should or shouldn't be taken during pregnancy.

A new study reveals that scores on neurological and motor skills tests were lower for six-month old babies who were exposed to psychotropic medications in the womb compared to those who were not.

This does not mean women taking prescription drugs for mental health issues should stop taking their medication if they become pregnant. They should always consult with their doctor before starting, stopping or changing their prescription drug use.

"Ask your doctor about medications during pregnancy."

Katrina Johnson, PhD, of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University's School of Medicine, led a study looking at how six-month-old babies were affected by their mother's psychiatric illnesses or psychiatric medications.

They studied 309 pairs of mothers and their babies between December 1999 and June 2008. Of the total number of women, 22 had taken antipsychotic medications during pregnancy, 202 had taken antidepressants during pregnancy and 85 had not taken any psychiatric medications.

The antipsychotic drugs taken by women that were included in the study were Haldol (haloperidol), Abilify (aripiprazole), Zyprexa (olanzapine), Seroquel (quetiapine fumarate), Risperdal (risperidone) and Geodon (ziprasidone hydrochloride).

The researchers tested the babies' posture, reflexes, motor skills and response to an outside stimulus.

They found that six-month-old babies whose mothers had taken antipsychotic drugs during pregnancy scored lower on these neurological assessments compared to babies whose mothers took antidepressants or neither kind of drugs.

The babies exposed to the antipsychotic medications scored an average of 5 percent lower than the babies who had been exposed to antidepressants and about 9 percent lower than the babies without exposure to any psychiatric medications. The lower scores could not be explained by coincidence.

The researchers found that just 19 percent of the babies who were exposed to the psychiatric drugs while in the womb had normal scores on motor skills and neurology tests.

Babies whose mothers had been diagnosed with psychiatric illnesses also showed lower scores on the tests.

However, this does not mean the mothers' mental illnesses caused the infants' lower scores, and the researchers said more study was necessary to determine what part the medications and the history of psychiatric illness plays in infants' development.

The study appeared online April 2 in the JAMA Archives of General Psychiatry. The research was funded by grants from Emory University, the Specialized Center of Research on Sex and Gender Effects and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Two of the authors have received research support from and/or served on the advisory boards of a range of major pharmaceutical companies.

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Review Date: 
April 1, 2012
Last Updated:
July 8, 2013