Taking Acetaminophen During Pregnancy Linked to Childhood Behavior Problems

Distracted Child

The research published to be published today, September 15, 2019, in Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology examined whether there were any effects of taking acetaminophen (also called paracetamol and known by the common brand names Tylenol and Panadol) in mid-pregnancy and the behavior of the offspring between the ages of 6 months and 11 years, with memory and IQ tested up until the age of 17. Acetaminophen is commonly used to relieve pain during pregnancy and is recommended as the treatment of choice by the NHS.

Using the questionnaire and school information from Bristol’s Children of the 90s study researchers examined 14,000 children. When they were seven months pregnant 43 percent of their mothers said they had taken acetaminophen ‘sometimes’ or more often during the previous three months. Researchers examined the results of the children’s memory, IQ and preschool development tests, temperament, and behavior measures.

They found an association between acetaminophen intake and hyperactivity and attention problems as well as with other difficult behaviors with young children that were not accounted for by the reasons why the medication was taken or social factors. However, this was no longer the case by the time the children reached the end of primary school. Boys appeared to be more susceptible than girls to the possible behavioral effects of the drug.

The study was led by Professor Jean Golding OBE who also founded the University of Bristol’s Children of the 90s study. She commented:

“Our findings add to a series of results concerning evidence of the possible adverse effects of taking paracetamol during pregnancy such as issues with asthma or behavior in the offspring. It reinforces the advice that women should be cautious when taking medication during pregnancy and seek medical advice where necessary.

“It is important that our findings are tested in other studies – we were not in a position to show a causal link, but rather an association between two outcomes. It would also be useful now to assess whether older children and adults are free of difficult behavioral problems if their mother had taken paracetamol.”

Reference: “Associations between paracetamol (acetaminophen) intake between 18 and 32 weeks gestation and neurocognitive outcomes in the child: A longitudinal cohort study” by Jean Golding, Steven Gregory, Rosie Clark, Genette Ellis, Yasmin Iles‐Caven and Kate Northstone, 15 September 2019, Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology.
DOI: 10.1111/ppe.12582

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