Is Acetaminophen Use While Pregnant Harmful?

Is Acetaminophen Use While Pregnant Harmful?

Got a headache during pregnancy? You may be tempted to pop a Tylenol, because acetaminophen is considered safe for most expecting women. But should you?

A new study is adding to growing evidence that the over-the-counter medication could do your baby harm.

Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai conducted a study that was recently published in European Psychiatry. They noted that out of 743 women who were in their 8th to 13th week of pregnancy, 59 percent took the medication.

Here’s where it gets a little scary: At 30 months old, 12% of the boys and 4.1% of the girls had language delays. (That’s defined as having 50 or less words in their vocabulary.) Interestingly, girls born to moms who took the medication more than six times during pregnancy were more likely to have delays compared to mothers of girls who didn’t take the medication.

You’ve probably heard about this study in the news, and about others that link acetaminophen use during pregnancy to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism symptoms, among other ailments.

Is Tylenol Safe During Pregnancy?

So, what’s the verdict: Should you still take acetaminophen?

“I think we really need more data before we draw definite conclusions about the effects of acetaminophen on fetuses,” said Carolyn R. Givens, M.D., a doctor at Pacific Fertility Center in California.

She said that the actual number of children showing a mild deficit in the number of words in their vocabulary was “so very small.” She was curious about why it wasn’t seen in boys, which was a much larger group. (In boys, language delay decreased with the mothers’ use of acetaminophen, and the opposite was noted in girls.)

“As a general rule, try to not take any medications, over-the-counter or by prescription unless absolutely necessary,” Givens said. “This goes for aspirin, ibuprofen and narcotics as well. But, acetaminophen is very good at reducing fever and avoidance of high fever may be much more important for fetal development.”

Nicole Alexandria Smith, M.D., an assistant professor at Harvard, said the study also didn’t address why the mothers took the medication, and that could shed light on a possible underlying condition associated with the delay.

Acetaminophen in pregnancy may adversely affect fetal development, but Shanna Swan, Ph.D., a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and senior author, said she wanted to see more data. That would be able to tell us exactly why it may be harmful and see if it can be definitively found to be the cause of language delays.

Otherwise, using acetaminophen can be beneficial for some expectant mothers, and the choice to do so needs to be an individual one between patient and doctor, noted. Joshua Klein, M.D., a doctor at Extend Fertility in New York.

He said he would not yet say that taking acetaminophen is unsafe for pregnancy altogether.

“Like many things in medicine, the risks of using acetaminophen must be weighed against the risks of not using it,” he said, adding that other pain relievers are probably not safer, and uncontrolled pain in pregnancy likely has its own set of risks. “Ultimately, this needs to be an individual choice appropriate to individual circumstances.”

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