Lexapro is one of a number of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that, when taken by pregnant women, have been proven to increase the chances of birth injury or defect. A highly useful and popular antidepressant, Lexapro is commonly used for treating symptoms not only of depression but also anxiety and nervous disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), eating disorders, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder, among others.
By balancing the chemicals in the brain, SSRIs like Lexapro can improve the lives of people who live with these disorders and allow them to function normally. Before going to market, Lexapro was tested by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and deemed safe for human consumption. However, because testing did show that it could be harmful to animals, the FDA graded Lexapro as a class C drug available only through a prescription from a doctor.
Because there was no way to ethically test Lexapro and other SSRIs on infants or fetuses, there was initially no way to tell that it could cause of Lexapro birth injury or defects. For years, then, doctors prescribed Lexapro to pregnant women with no reason to be concerned for the health of their babies. However, after numerous incidents of Lexapro birth injuries and more recent studies, it has been determined that Lexapro and other SSRIs are key factors in increasing the risk of birth injury or defect.
How Does Lexapro Affect Newborn Babies?
The most serious birth injury or defect associated with Lexapro use during pregnancy is persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN). According to the FDA, this condition occurs when a baby’s heart and lungs have not developed fully and the baby cannot immediately adapt to breathing on its own outside of the womb. This can result in the need for medical intervention to maintain the baby’s oxygen levels and may be fatal in some cases.
Other Lexapro birth injuries and defects include cleft palate or lip and anencephaly. In the former, reconstructive surgery will most likely be necessary for the baby to eat and drink properly and to live a normal life. In the latter, problems with the neural tube will cause the baby to be born without parts of the brain and/or skull. Anencephaly is incredibly dangerous and fatal in most cases.
The Decision to Prescribe Lexapro to Pregnant Women
While the resulting injuries and defects are frightening, the chances of Lexapro birth injury or defect are still reasonably low for most women taking the antidepressant during pregnancy. As a result, many doctors have chosen to continue treating depression in order to avoid dangerous relapses that could result in self-harm or harm to the baby.
While many doctors will argue that the chances of harming an unborn baby due to problems with depression are higher than those of the baby being hurt by Lexapro use, it is still your doctor’s responsibility to inform you of all of the risks associated with any medication he or she prescribes for you. If you’re doctor prescribed Lexapro without warning you, and your baby suffers birth injury or defects, then you may have a Lexapro birth injury case against your doctor.
Likewise, the pharmaceutical company that produces Lexapro is also responsible for warning doctors and patients about any potentially harmful side effects of the drug. Because it is now well known that Lexapro can cause these birth injuries and defects, if a pharmaceutical company fails to place sufficient warnings on their product, they should be held responsible for damages incurred by taking that product during pregnancy.