The risk posed by some popular antidepressants in early pregnancy is not worth taking for women with mild to moderate depression according to a NICE expert advisor.
Professor Stephen Pilling says evidence suggests SSRIs, used by up to one in six women, can double the risk of a child being born with a heart defect.
Currently, prescription guidelines for doctors only warn specifically against taking the SSRI, paroxetine, in early pregnancy but Prof Pilling says that advice is about to be updated.
Carrying greater risks than smoking
"The available evidence suggests that there is a risk associated with the SSRIs," explained Prof Pilling.
"We make a quite a lot of effort really to discourage women from smoking or drinking even small amounts of alcohol in pregnancy, and yet we're perhaps not yet saying the same about antidepressant medication, which is going to be carrying similar, if not greater, risks."
The NICE advisor added that the guidance will now be re-written to take in to account evidence that the SSRI antidepressants, as a group, are linked to heart defects.
Double the risk for pregnant women
The risk of any baby being born with a heart defect is around two in 100; but the evidence suggests if the mother took an SSRI in early pregnancy that risk increases to around four in 100.
Prof Pilling concluded: "You've got double the risk [for pregnant women] and for women who are mild to moderately depressed, I don't think that those risks, in most cases, are really worth taking".
"It's not just when a woman who's pregnant is sitting in front of you. I think it needs to be thought about with a woman who could get pregnant. And, that's the large majority of women aged between 15 and 45."