Zoloft is a commonly prescribed anti-depressant medication classified under serotonin reuptake inhibitors. (SSRI's) It is used to treat depression, anxiety disorders, mood and some personality disorders by blocking serotonin from being reabsorbed back into the body and managing the symptoms of these disorders. Since 1992 it has been popularly marketed by pharmaceutical company Pfizer as a better, safer and more effective anti-depressant than previous medications used to treat the same disorders for two decades. In the time that SSRI's medications have been on the market, there have been many cases and studies over the adverse effects of SSRI's that include increased risk of suicide, changes in mood, and increased risk of some birth defects from mothers taking the drug during pregnancy.
A common birth defect affected by taking mother's taking SSRI's is cleft lip or palate. It is known as a malformation of either the lip or palate where tissue from the area was unable to fuse together forming an open gap called a cleft. A baby may have a cleft lip without a cleft palate, both cleft lip and palate or even a cleft palate without the cleft lip. While the exact cause of congenital cleft lips and palates are not known, there are many theories that suggest that a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors can affect their formation during development.
However, some studies have claimed that taking SSRI's like Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, Wellbutrin and others during pregnancy may lead to an increased chance of developing this particular defect. All SSRI meds except Paroxetine (Paxil Pregnancy Category D) are classified as Pregnancy Category C drugs by the US FDA which means that there are risks associated with taking medication if you're a pregnant mother.
Cleft lip is the less serious of the two signifying potential difficulties for the child involving speech, feeding and dental problems. Cleft palates are more serious in severity because they have a tendency to affect the ear of the child often causing infections in the inner ear and eventually leading to possible hearing loss. A child growing up with this condition not properly treated might have difficulty fitting in socially or learning normally due to possible difficulty relating or understanding those around them.
Treatment is recommended often as early as possible involving surgery and each case is highly individualized, with some cases now allowing repair done even while the baby is still in utero. Often surgery is recommended before the 6th month of the infant's life when they usually start teething as that will become an added complication for the child if the cleft is not corrected. It is also recommended that for the most ideal results at correcting these birth defects, the child might have to be operated on at several stages as they grow older.
Pregnant women looking to take this medication should be aware of the risks associated with it and consult their caregivers appropriately. It is suggested that psychotherapy and psychiatric counseling is recommended for women suffering from mild to moderate depression or other psychiatric disorder, however those with more severe cases are advised with continuing their medication in order to be safer for the well-being of the mother and the child.