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Taking the antidepressant Effexor (venlafaxine) during pregnancy may significantly increase your risk of having a baby with cleft palate, according to recent studies. Unfortunately, many women were unaware of the risk before they used Effexor during pregnancy.

Effexor and Cleft Palate

Effexor (venlafaxine) is an antidepressant medication that has been linked to an increased risk of birth defects when it is taken during pregnancy. Although numerous studies have found links between Effexor and birth defects, many women were not aware of this risk before they took Effexor during pregnancy.

Effexor treats depression by influencing serotonin and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are involved in moods and emotions in the brain. However, they also play a role in fetal development. Researchers have warned that antidepressants could potentially increase the risk of many birth defects by harming normal serotonin signaling in a fetus.

Studies of Effexor and Cleft Palate

Using data from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study (NBDPS), an ongoing database of birth defects and maternal risk factors, researchers have linked Effexor to a 3-fold increased risk of cleft palate. The study was published in the journal Birth Defects Research in December 2012.

Effexor belongs to a class of antidepressants called SNRIs, or “Serotonin Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors.” Most studies have focused on another class of antidepressants: SSRIs (“Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors”). More than a dozen studies of the SSRIs have found increased risks of birth defects, heart defects, intellectual disabilities, and more.

What is Cleft Palate?

Cleft palate is a congenital birth defect that occurs when there is a split in the roof of the mouth. All babies begin life with a cleft palate, but it normally fuses between week 6 and 9 of pregnancy. If the tissue does not join together, the baby is born with an opening. Severe cases of cleft palate may involve the hard and soft palate (in the front and back of the roof of the mouth) and extend into the nasal cavity.

Babies with serious cleft palate may have feeding difficulties that can impair growth and development, which is why most children born with cleft palate undergo surgery before they are 12 months old. As they grow older, they may require additional services, such as special orthodontic care, speech therapy, or hearing devices. With treatment, long-term outlook for children with cleft palate is very good.