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Assessing risk of neurodevelopmental disorders after birth with oxytocin: a systematic review and meta-analysis

  • Nicole N. Lønfeldt (a1) (a2), Frank C. Verhulst (a1) (a3), Katrine Strandberg-Larsen (a2), Kerstin J. Plessen (a1) (a4) and Eli R. Lebowitz (a5)...


Experts have raised concerns that oxytocin for labor induction and augmentation may have detrimental effects on the neurodevelopment of children. To investigate whether there is the reason for concern, we reviewed and evaluated the available evidence by searching databases with no language or date restrictions up to 9 September 2018. We included English-language studies reporting results on the association between perinatal oxytocin exposure and any cognitive impairment, psychiatric symptoms or disorders in childhood. We assessed the quality of studies using the Newcastle–Ottawa Quality Assessment Scales. Independent risk estimates were pooled using random-effects meta-analyses when at least two independent datasets provided data on the same symptom or disorder. Otherwise, we provided narrative summaries. Two studies examined cognitive impairment, one examined problem behavior, three examined attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and seven focused on autism spectrum disorders (ASD). We provided narrative summaries of the studies on cognitive impairment. For ADHD, the pooled risk estimate was 1.17; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.77–1.78, based on a pooled sample size of 5 47 278 offspring. For ASD, the pooled risk estimate was 1.10; 95% CI 1.04–1.17, based on 8 87 470 offspring. Conclusions that perinatal oxytocin increases the risks of neurodevelopmental problems are premature. Observational studies of low to high quality comprise the evidence-base, and confounding, especially by the genetic or environmental vulnerability, remains an issue. Current evidence is insufficient to justify modifying obstetric guidelines for the use of oxytocin, which state that it should only be used when clinically indicated.


Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Nicole N. Lønfeldt, E-mail:


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