In the last month, a new study has revealed some of the shocking effects that taking Tylenol while pregnant could have on an unborn child, once they are finding their way in the big wide world. This is in spite of the fact that acetaminophen (Tylenol) is widely considered to be safe to take during pregnancy (1).
In a study published in JAMA Pediatrics (2), British researchers collected data from the long-running ALSPAC (Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children). They mined data over a span of years, from clinic visits and questionnaires, answered by parents and used this to reveal what happens when pregnant women take the drug during pregnancy.
They found that taking acetaminophen while pregnant, was associated with a higher risk of behavioral problems in children.
The study took 7,796 pairs of parents and children and used information about them from pregnancy through to the child’s seventh birthday. Among the information collected was whether or not the mothers used acetaminophen during and after pregnancy.
Many mothers experience headaches, especially during the later stages of pregnancy, and so may turn to medication such as Tylenol to relieve some of that pain. It is also very important, should the mother experience a fever, to treat this, as this in itself could have very negative effects on the unborn child (3).
Of the participants in the study, more than half (53 percent) used the drug at least once at 18 weeks of their pregnancy, and 42 percent used it at least once at 32 weeks (8 months).
When their children turned seven, the mothers answered a questionnaire about the child’s behavior. Questions included conduct problems, relationships with their peers, and hyperactivity. This is where the study got interesting and revealed a surprising fact.
When compared to people who did not take the drug during pregnancy, the use of acetaminophen at 18 and 32 weeks was associated with a 42 percent increased relative risk of conduct problems. It was also associated with a 31 percent higher risk of hyperactivity symptoms in children (4).
The study carefully controlled for maternal age as well as other variables such as smoking and alcohol use, as well as psychiatric illness. The lead researcher, Evie Stergiakouli, from the University of Bristol, along with the other authors, hypothesized what could be at the root cause. The drug might be interfering with the mother’s hormone systems. In turn, this influences the prenatal brain development of the fetus (3, 4).
How Reliable Is It?
Experts at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists identifies acetaminophen as “one of the only safe pain relievers for women during pregnancy.” (1) Further, to put you at a little more ease, more experts have come forward to analyze some of the findings a little more deeply.
Analysts have noted that it’s always a possibility in observational studies that the connection is coincidental and not causal. They also say that fallible memories (asking the mothers to remember back to when they may or may not have taken acetaminophen during pregnancy) could give misleading results.
What Can You Do?
One of the best things to do would be to strictly limit your intake of Tylenol and other acetaminophen pills where possible. The study’s researchers suggested non-medicinal therapies such as taking a hot bath, as a remedy for muscle or joint pain (3). However in the case of fevers, lead researcher Stergiakouli confirmed, “Pregnant women should still use acetaminophen as required because there is a risk of not treating fever or pain during pregnancy.”
If your doctor recommends you take it, you certainly should follow their instructions!
1. Does prenatal exposure to acetaminophen later affect the child?. STAT. 2016. Available at: https://www.statnews.com/2016/08/15/acetaminophen-during-pregnancy/. Accessed September 1, 2016.
2. Stergiakouli E, Thapar A, Smith G. Association of Acetaminophen Use During Pregnancy With Behavioral Problems in Childhood: Evidence Against Confounding. JAMA Pediatrics. 2016. Available at: http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2543281. Accessed September 1, 2016.
3. Susan Scutti C. Acetaminophen during pregnancy linked to ADHD. CNN. 2016. Available at: http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/15/health/acetaminophen-pregnancy-kids-adhd/. Accessed September 1, 2016.
4. Bakalar N. Tylenol in Pregnancy Tied to Behavior Problems in Children. Well. 2016. Available at: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/08/17/tylenol-in-pregnancy-tied-to-behavior-problems-in-children/. Accessed September 1, 2016.
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