Published online earlier this week in the journal Pediatrics, the study was joint effort between researchers at Bloomberg and at the University of California at Davis' MIND Institute.
"This research also highlights the challenge for women and their physicians to balance the risks versus the benefits of taking these medications," said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a researcher at the MIND Institute, "given that a mother's underlying mental-health conditions also may pose a risk, both to herself and her child."
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, are the most popular class of drugs prescribed for depression and anxiety symptoms -- endorsed by doctors for their high rate of success and relative safety. But for pregnant moms, SSRIs may put their baby-on-board at risk.
In a study of nearly 1,000 mothers and their children, researchers found a strong connection between prenatal SSRI exposure and developmental problems, including autism, in boys.
Health information of 966 mother-child pairs was collected as part of the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) Study, an effort undertaken by MIND Institute in order to uncover potential causes of autism.
Researchers at the John Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health analyzed the data, and found children of mothers who took SSRIs during pregnancy were more likely to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or suffer developmental delays during early childhood, from age two to five.
The tendency was only found to be statistically significant in male children.
"We found prenatal SSRI exposure was nearly three times as likely in boys with ASD relative to typical development, with the greatest risk when exposure took place during the first trimester," explained Li-Ching Lee, a psychiatric epidemiologist at Bloomberg.
[Bloomberg School of Public Health]