14/08/2014 16:51 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Professor Warns Mums On Antidepressants Are Risking Their Unborn Babies' Health

Professor warns that mums on antidepressants are risking their unborn babies health

A leading scientist has said unborn babies could be at risk of heart defects if their mums are using certain antidepressants.

Professor Stephen Pilling told the BBC's Panorama programme that evidence suggests SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) antidepressants - which are used by up to one in six women of child-bearing age - can double the risk of a child being born with a heart problem.

The Panorama programme heard from eight mums who had taken SSTIs during their pregnancies and who went on to have babies born with serious heart defects.

Guidelines currently only specifically advise against taking the SSRI paroxetine in early pregnancy – advice that Professor Pilling says will soon be updated.

"The available evidence suggests that there is a risk associated with the SSRIs," he said. "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."

He said that although the risks are low - around four in 100 – he doesn't think it is a risk worth taking.

He added that for women who are not suffering from severe depression when they become pregnant, continuing to take the medication was an unnecessary risk.

"You've got double the risk. And for women who are mild to moderately depressed, I don't think that those risks, in most cases, are really worth taking," he said.

He also told the programme that medics needed to exercise caution when prescribing SSRIs to any woman of child-bearing age.

"It's not just when a woman who's pregnant is sitting in front of you," he said. "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."

Panorama: The Truth about Pills and Pregnancy will be broadcast on BBC One tonight at 8:30pm.

More on Parentdish: What it really means to be pregnant with mental health issues