Up to 1% of pregnant women undergo anaesthesia for non-obstetric surgery. This study investigated neurodevelopmental outcomes after prenatal anaesthesia for maternal surgery. A bidirectional cohort study of children born between 2001 and 2018 was performed: neurodevelopmental outcomes of children who had received prenatal anaesthesia for maternal surgery were prospectively compared with unexposed children, with exposure status being assessed retrospectively. Children exposed to anaesthesia for obstetric and fetal surgery were excluded. The primary outcome was the global executive composite of the behaviour rating inventory of executive function score. Our secondary outcomes were: total problems; internalising problems and externalising problems derived from the child behaviour checklist; psychiatric diagnoses; and learning disorders. In 90% of exposed children, there was a single mean (SD) antenatal anaesthesia exposure lasting 91(94) min. There was a broad spectrum of indications, with abdominal surgery being most frequent. Parents of 129 exposed (response rate 68%) and 453 unexposed (response rate 63%) children participated. There were no arguments for non-response bias. After propensity weighting, there were no statistically significant differences in primary outcome, with a weighted mean difference (95%CI) of exposed minus unexposed children of 1.9 (-0.4-4.2), p = 0.10; or any of the secondary outcomes. Sensitivity analyses confirmed the robustness. Exploratory analyses, however, showed significant differences in certain subgroups for the primary outcome, (e.g. for intra-abdominal surgery, exposure duration > 1 h) and some cognitive subdomains (e.g. working memory and attention). This bidirectional cohort study, the largest investigation on the subject to date, has found no evidence in the general population for an association between prenatal exposure to anaesthesia and impaired neurodevelopmental outcomes.

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Bleeser et al.
Anaesthesia October 2022