No Association Between Prenatal Anesthesia, Neurodevelopmental Outcomes in Children

A recent study—and the largest to date—has found no evidence that there is an association between prenatal exposure to anesthesia and neurodevelopmental outcomes in children.1

There is a small percentage of women—up to 1%—who undergo anesthesia for surgeries unrelated to pregnancy. In 2016, the FDA warned clinicians that the use of anesthesia during a women’s third trimester of pregnancy may affect brain development in children.2 The researchers sought to examine the possible connection.

A bidirectional cohort study was conducted using data between 2001 and 2018. The researchers analyzed the data of children who were exposed to prenatal anesthesia during a non-pregnancy-related surgery and their neurodevelopmental outcomes, compared with unexposed children. Neurodevelopmental outcomes were evaluated with various standardized tools, including an assessment of processes that control behavior, psychosocial problems, learning disorders, and any psychiatric diagnoses.

Women underwent anesthesia for a broad range of indications, with abdominal surgery being the most frequent reason.

In total, 582 parents of children who were exposed (n = 129) or unexposed (n = 453) participated in the study. After the researchers adjusted the data with propensity weighting, they found there were no statistical differences in their primary outcome.



—Jessica Ganga


  1. Bleeser T, Devroe S, Lucas N, et al. Neurodevelopmental outcomes after prenatal exposure to anaesthesia for maternal surgery: a propensity-score weighted bidirectional cohort study. Anaesthesia. Published online October 25, 2022. doi:10.1111/anae.15884
  2. FDA drug safety communication: FDA review results in new warnings about using general anesthetics and sedation drugs in young children and pregnant women. News Release. US Food and Drug Administration; December 14, 2016. Accessed November 3, 2022.