Archives of Women's Mental Health

, Volume 21, Issue 5, pp 505–516 | Cite as

Comparative effects of antidepressant medications and untreated major depression on pregnancy outcomes: a systematic review

  • Jentina Mitchell
  • Janice Goodman
Review Article


Psychopharmacological treatment of pregnant women is an area of continued controversy; extensive observational research on the use of antidepressant medications in pregnancy has found these medications to be associated with increased risk of spontaneous abortion, preterm delivery, and low birth weight. However, depression itself has also been associated with increased risk of those same outcomes, and only recently have researchers begun trying to compare treated with untreated depression. The purpose of this study was to conduct a systematic review of the literature to integrate those comparative studies and compare risks and benefits. PubMed, PsycInfo, and CINAHL searches; study selection; and data extraction were carried out using PRISMA guidelines. Eleven prospective observational and case-control studies were selected for final inclusion. Risk of low birth weight and related outcomes do not differ between antidepressant-treated pregnant women and untreated depressed women. Average gestational lengths tend to be slightly shorter with antidepressant use but it is unclear whether these differences are clinically meaningful or extend to preterm delivery. Very limited research on spontaneous abortion did not allow conclusions to be drawn regarding that outcome. The low number of studies meeting criteria highlights the need for further research to aid in risk-benefit analysis for women considering antidepressant use in pregnancy. While further research is necessary, discontinuing antidepressant treatment of major depression in pregnancy due to concerns about length of gestation, birth weight, or spontaneous abortion is not supported by the evidence available at this time.


Peripartum depression Antidepressants Pregnancy Preterm birth Birth weight 



The authors thank Jessica Bell MS (MGH Institute of Health Professions) for assistance with database search strategy and Brendon Stubbs PhD (Kings College London) for advice on feasibility of meta-analysis.

Funding source


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Austria, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.MGH Institute of Health Professions, School of NursingBostonUSA

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