Researchers in England say they have found a connection between pregnant women taking the painkiller acetaminophen – widely sold as Tylenol – and development of behavioral problems in children.
But the scientists said it still may be appropriate for pregnant women seeking pain relief to take acetaminophen. They acknowledged the link between acetaminophen and children’s behavioral health is not well understood. And they said more study is necessary.
As always, it’s best for pregnant women to discuss their concerns, including whether to take Tylenol for pain, with their health care providers.
What the research examined
Researchers at the University of Bristol examined data for nearly 7,800 pregnant women in Bristol, England, who were expected to give birth in 1991 and 1992. Mothers were asked twice during their pregnancies if they had used acetaminophen in the previous three months, and then asked about their children’s behavior when the kids were 61 months old – a little more than 5 years.
The data suggested children who were exposed to acetaminophen before they were born faced an increased risk of developing multiple behavioral difficulties. Using a child screening tool called the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire, they looked for problems with emotions, conduct, hyperactivity and peer relationships. They also looked for “prosocial” behaviors, such as gentleness, caring and honesty.
Yet the connection between acetaminophen and childhood behavior wasn’t dramatic. The researchers found that 5 percent of children whose mothers took acetaminophen had behavioral problems.
The findings, the researchers wrote, “can have important implications on public health advice. However, the risk of not treating fever or pain during pregnancy should be carefully weighed against any potential harm of acetaminophen to the offspring.”
In other words, talk to your provider.
More on acetaminophen and childhood behavior
The study, “Association of Acetaminophen Use During Pregnancy With Behavioral Problems in Childhood: Evidence Against Confounding,” was published in JAMA Pediatrics.
Previous studies have also explored links between the painkiller and children’s behavior. JAMA Pediatrics earlier published “Acetaminophen Use During Pregnancy, Behavioral Problems, and Hyperkinetic Disorders,” which also concluded that the drug could elevate the risk of behavioral problems in children. But the researchers in that study noted that most over-the-counter medications are generally considered safe for use during pregnancy. And they also said more study is needed.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an extensive set of resources for pregnant women, beginning with “During Pregnancy,” which offers an overview of the many issues for expecting moms to think about, from vaccinations to drinking alcohol.
Of specific interest in connection to this study is the CDC’s “Medications and Pregnancy” page, which advises women not to make decisions about which medications to use during pregnancy without talking to a health care provider.
For women who are pregnant: Congratulations. If you don’t have a health care provider, it’s time to find one. You can find a Providence provider in this multistate directory.