Health experts agree that paracetamol or acetaminophen is generally safe to be used by pregnant women for pain but a new study links this drug use during pregnancy with behavioral problems in children. Researchers from the University of Bristol reveal that mothers who took the drug at 18 and 32 weeks of pregnancy were more likely to give birth to children with conduct problems and hyperactivity symptoms.
“Children exposed to acetaminophen prenatally are at increased risk of multiple behavioral difficulties, and the associations do not appear to be explained by unmeasured behavioral or social factors linked to acetaminophen use, insofar as they are not observed for postnatal or partner’s acetaminophen use,” says Evie Stergiakouli of Bristol’s MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit. “Our findings suggest that the association between acetaminophen use during pregnancy and offspring behavioral problems in childhood may be due to an intrauterine mechanism.”
They studied the data of 7,796 mothers who participated in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) between 1991 and 1992. The team also provided the women with questionnaires at 18 and 32 weeks of pregnancy and their children when they reached five years old. The mothers were then asked to assess their children’s behavior when they reached seven years.
The research team did not inquire about the dosage and duration of paracetamol use but overall, they found that 53 percent of the mothers used paracetamol at 18 weeks of pregnancy while 42 percent used it at 32 weeks of pregnancy. Five percent of the children had behavioral problems.
Eighty-nine percent of women also used paracetamol postnatally but this was not associated with behavioral problems. Eighty-four percent of the women’s partners also took the drug but this, too, was not associated with problems.
However, the researchers assert that more studies must be conducted before prohibiting the use of paracetamol during pregnancy. Other unknown factors could have also played a role in the results. As of now, they do not recommend healthcare professionals to advice women against the use of this drug since not treating fever or pain during pregnancy can cause problems like premature labor.