Use of acetaminophen—marketed under many brand names, including Tylenol—during certain points in pregnancy may increase the likelihood that a mother will report behavioral problems in her child at the age of 7, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
Acetaminophen is the only over-the-counter pain medication currently approved for pregnant women, so the study raises questions about the balance between the well-being of women and their developing fetuses.
Studying Acetaminophen Use in Pregnancy
Researchers analyzed data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), including data on 7,796 mothers along with their children and partners enrolled in the study between 1991 and 1992. Women who used acetaminophen at 18 and 32 weeks pregnant were more likely to report behavior problems in their 7-year-olds.
Children of mothers who took acetaminophen were 42% more likely to be labeled hyperactive and their mothers were 31% more likely to report conduct problems.
Should Pregnant Women Stop Taking Acetaminophen?
Researchers did not ask about dosage or frequency, so it is unclear if a specific level of acetaminophen exposure is linked to a greater likelihood of behavior problems. Because the study did not control for all factors that could have affected child behavior, it is possible that some other factor common to women who use acetaminophen accounts for the differences in behavior. The study also did not determine why the women were taking acetaminophen during pregnancy, meaning the conditions these women were trying to treat could also be a factor in the study’s results.
Acetaminophen may offset some risk factors for pregnant women and their children. In addition to being a painkiller, acetaminophen is also a common fever reducer. Studies show fevers, particularly during the first trimester of pregnancy, can raise the risk of some birth defects.
Women struggling with pain or fevers during pregnancy should talk to their doctors, then weigh the individual risks and benefits of acetaminophen use.
- Healy, M. (2016, August 15). Acetaminophen use in pregnancy linked to kids’ behavioral problems. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-acetaminophen-pregnancy-behavior-problems-20160815-snap-story.html
- Norton, A. (2014, February 25). Fever in 1st trimester might raise risk of birth defects. Retrieved from https://consumer.healthday.com/disabilities-information-11/misc-birth-defect-news-63/fever-in-1st-trimester-might-raise-risk-of-birth-defects-685123.html
- Stergiakouli, E., Thapar, A., & Smith, G. D. (2016). Association of acetaminophen use during pregnancy with behavioral problems in childhood. JAMA Pediatrics. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.1775
- Strauss, E. (2016, August 16). That new study on pregnant women and Tylenol isn’t worth worrying about—yet. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2016/08/16/study_on_tylenol_and_pregnant_women_raises_questions_about_safety_but_more.html
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