A drug which so profoundly disrupts neurological function in adults can be expected to interfere with the developing foetal system.

The evidence linking benzodiazepine (BDZ) exposure to damage to the embryo, foetus and infant in the first few months after birth is still growing. Major malformations such as cleft palate remain an area of contention, but other adverse effects in the neonate are well documented and recent evidence of long term neurological damage continues to emerge.

30 - 40 % of all pregnant women will be given an antianxiety drug ( usually a BDZ ) at some time during pregnancy(1) it is vital that all women of childbearing potential are warned of any dangers to their children from BDZ exposure. Presently they are not.

Recent patient information leaflets from the manufacturers warn:

-"benzodiazepines including lorazepam, may cause damage to the foetus,"
(patient information leaflet from Wyeth re. lorazepam). They also warn of many adverse effects in the neonate.

Neurodevelopmental effects.
Extensive animal, and more recently human, research has shown that BDZs affect neurodevelopement in animals and humans, some of which is not manifest until later in development.

Again, flumazenil was found, when administered to pregnant rats concommittantly with diazepam (2.5 mg/kg) to reverse the effects of diazepam in the hypothalamus of the adult offspring.(2)

Animal research is now reflected in human research, for example:

(i).The enzyme Na,K - ATPase holds a key position in the biochemical developement of the brain. Its activity is changed in mice after exposure to diazepam [Weber and Schmahl,1983] and it was also inhibited in vitro in human foetal brain tissue [Das et Al.,1979].(3)

The evidence is increasing that behavioural disorders may be linked to prenatal BDZ exposure.

(iii). Diazepam (Valium) is implicated in a wide variety of regulatory disfunctions in the newborn and may exert long range deleterious influences, as some forms of learning disabilities or attention deficit disorders.(4)

Evidence that prenatal exposure to drugs such as diazepam (Valium) has profound effects in the mammalian brain on a range of adaptive responses of a kind that are often not expressed until adolescence(a stage when many clinical behavioural disorders appear) was published in 1995(5)

A prospective study in humans from Sweden concludes:

"infants born to mothers exposed to the long term regular use of BDZ in therapeutic doses run the risk of an overall deviation in neurodevelopment during their first 18 months of life, seen most prominently as a delay in voluntary grasping. This finding was not thought to be explained by disturbed social interaction between mother and infant alone. A teratogenic effect by BDZ on the developing brain is supported by the presence of craniofacial anomalies found in several children. Many studies show that infants with transient neurologic deviations in the first year of life are a high risk group for attention deficit disorder in early school years. A follow up of our series is urgent and in progress for evaluating the long term hazards of BDZ."(6)

And: "mothers using BDZ alone continuously throughout pregnancy do not deviate much from others in general in social terms, and that their newborn infants tend to be wasted, have a significantly increased frequency of perinatal complications and a significantly deviating neuro-behaviour." (7)

Today, only women who are prescribed a BDZ that comes in a packet receive a warning. This is left at the discretion of the manufacturer.

* NB: The owner of this site wishes to make clear that a significant proportion of people who take benzodiazepines (both babies and adults) do not suffer the adverse consequences featured here. The concern of Benzact is the significant proportion of those who are adversely affected by benzodiazepines.

DISCLAIMER: Information on this site is not intended as medical advice in any context and personal health concerns should be directed to a relevant qualified professional.

Not all views expressed on this site are necessarily the views of the owner.