Association of Antipsychotic Drug Exposure in Pregnancy With Risk of Neurodevelopmental Disorders: A National Birth Cohort Study

JAMA Intern Med. 2022 May 1;182(5):522-533. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2022.0375.


Importance: Although antipsychotic drugs cross the placenta and animal data suggest potential neurotoxic effects, information regarding human neurodevelopmental teratogenicity is limited.

Objective: To evaluate whether children prenatally exposed to antipsychotic medication are at an increased risk of neurodevelopmental disorders (NDD).

Design, settings, and participants: This birth cohort study used data from the Medicaid Analytic eXtract (MAX, 2000-2014) and the IBM Health MarketScan Research Database (MarketScan, 2003-2015) for a nationwide sample of publicly (MAX) and privately (MarketScan) insured mother-child dyads with up to 14 years of follow-up. The MAX cohort consisted of 2 034 883 children who were not prenatally exposed and 9551 who were prenatally exposed to antipsychotic medications; the MarketScan consisted of 1 306 408 and 1221 children, respectively. Hazard ratios were estimated through Cox proportional hazards regression, using propensity score overlap weights for confounding control. Estimates from both cohorts were combined through meta-analysis.

Exposures: At least 1 dispensing of a medication during the second half of pregnancy (period of synaptogenesis), assessed for any antipsychotic drug, at the class level (atypical and typical), and for the most commonly used drugs (aripiprazole, olanzapine, quetiapine, risperidone, and haloperidol).

Main outcomes and measures: Autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, learning disability, speech or language disorder, developmental coordination disorder, intellectual disability, and behavioral disorder, identified using validated algorithms, and the composite outcome of any NDD. Data were analyzed from April 2020 to January 2022.

Results: The MAX cohort consisted of 2 034 883 unexposed pregnancies and 9551 pregnancies with 1 or more antipsychotic drug dispensings among women with a mean (SD) age of 26.8 (6.1) years, 204 (2.1%) of whom identified as Asian/Pacific Islander, 2720 (28.5%) as Black, 500 (5.2%) as Hispanic/Latino, and 5356 (56.1%) as White. The MarketScan cohort consisted of 1 306 408 unexposed and 1221 exposed pregnancies among women with a mean (SD) age of 33.1 (5.0) years; race and ethnicity data were not available. Although the unadjusted results were consistent with an approximate 2-fold increased risk for most exposure-outcome contrasts, risks were no longer meaningfully increased after adjustment (eg, pooled unadjusted vs adjusted hazard ratios [95% CI] for any NDD after any antipsychotic exposure: 1.91 [1.79-2.03] vs 1.08 [1.01-1.17]), with the possible exception of aripiprazole (1.36 [1.14-1.63]). Results were consistent across sensitivity analyses.

Conclusions and relevance: The findings of this birth cohort study suggest that the increased risk of NDD seen in children born to women who took antipsychotic drugs late in pregnancy seems to be explained by maternal characteristics and is not causally related with prenatal antipsychotic exposure. This finding highlights the importance of closely monitoring the neurodevelopment of the offspring of women with mental illness to ensure early intervention and support. The potential signal for aripiprazole requires replication in other data before causality can be assumed.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Antipsychotic Agents* / adverse effects
  • Aripiprazole
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / chemically induced
  • Birth Cohort
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders* / chemically induced
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders* / complications
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Aripiprazole