Prevalence of benzodiazepines and benzodiazepine-related drugs exposure before, during and after pregnancy: A systematic review and meta-analysis

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Babette Bais 1Nina M Molenaar 2Hilmar H Bijma 3Witte J G Hoogendijk 4Cornelis L Mulder 5Annemarie I Luik 6Mijke P Lambregtse-van den Berg 7Astrid M Kamperman 8


Background: Maternal use of benzodiazepines during pregnancy is common and has increased over the last decades. In this systematic review and meta-analysis, we studied the literature to estimate the worldwide use of benzodiazepines before, during and after pregnancy, which could help to estimate benzodiazepine exposure and to prioritize and guide future investigations.

Methods: We systematically searched Embase, Medline Ovid, Web of Science and Cochrane Central up until July 2019 for studies reporting on benzodiazepine use before (12 months), during and after pregnancy (12 months). Random effects meta-analysis was conducted to calculate pooled prevalence estimates, as well as stratified according to substantive variables.

Results: We identified 32 studies reporting on 28 countries, together reporting on 7,343,571 pregnancies. The worldwide prevalence of benzodiazepine use/prescriptions during pregnancy was 1.9% (95%CI 1.6%-2.2%; I2 97.48%). Highest prevalence was found in the third trimester (3.1%; 95%CI 1.8%-4.5%; I2 99.83%). Lorazepam was the most frequently used/prescribed benzodiazepine (1.5%; 95%CI 0.5%-2.5%; I2 99.87%). Highest prevalence was found in Eastern Europe (14.0%; 95%CI 12.1%-15.9%; I2 0.00%).

Limitations: All analyses revealed considerable heterogeneity.

Conclusions: Our meta-analysis confirmed that benzodiazepine use before, during and after pregnancy is prevalent. The relatively common use of benzodiazepines with possible risks for both mother and (unborn) child is worrying and calls for prescription guidelines for women, starting in the preconception period. Given the substantial proportion of children exposed to benzodiazepines in utero, future research should continue to study the short- and long-term safety of maternal benzodiazepine use during pregnancy and to explore non-pharmacological alternative treatments.

Keywords: Benzodiazepines; Meta-analysis; Postpartum period; Pregnancy; Prescription drugs.

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