When used during pregnancy, benzodiazepines (BZDs) and related z-drugs could pass readily through the placenta and the foetal blood-brain barrier, where they can bind to γ-amino butyric acid (GABA) receptors in the developing foetal brain. Yet, data on long-term safety of prenatal BZD and z-drug use and its impact on offspring neurodevelopment are inconclusive. In this systematic review, we qualitatively synthetize the existing evidence on maternal exposure to various BZDs and z-drugs during pregnancy and offspring cognitive, emotional, behavioural, and motor skills developmental outcomes. Nineteen studies were included. We used harvest plots to visualize the directions of reported associations. Despite several associations between distinct types of BZDs and z-drugs and an increased risk of outcomes within different neurodevelopmental domains were observed, a remarkable scarcity of overall research on the topic and considerable discrepancies in methodology, particularly towards controlling for confounding by indication, precluded drawing conclusions with a reasonable degree of certainty. We outline various research strategies to mitigate methodological limitations and provide directions for future empirical studies on the topic.
Keywords: Antiepileptics; Anxiolytics; Benzodiazepines; Child neurodevelopmental outcomes; Hypnotics; Pregnancy; Prenatal exposure; Z-drugs.
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