Painkiller Use During Pregnancy Adds to Child's Behavioral Problems

Acetaminophen – the most common drug ingredient in the United States – has been believed to be safe for pregnant women, no matter what stage of pregnancy they’re in. A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics challenges that belief.

Acetaminophen — the most common drug ingredient in the United States — has been believed to be safe for pregnant women, no matter what stage of pregnancy they’re in. A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics challenges that belief by uncovering behavioral outcomes in children who had been exposed to the drug in utero.

“Research suggest that acetaminophen use in pregnancy is associated with abnormal fetal neurodevelopment,” the report said. “However, it is possible that this association might be confounded by unmeasured behavioral factors linked to acetaminophen use.”

Researchers from the United Kingdom looked at data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) from 1991 to 1992 — including 7,796 mothers, as well as their children and partners. Questionnaires completed at weeks 18 and 32 of pregnancy, as well as when the child was 61 months old, revealed acetaminophen use. That information was broken down into three categories: maternal prenatal acetaminophen use, maternal postnatal acetaminophen use, and partner’s acetaminophen use.

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Mothers filled out the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) — which measures behavioral problems – when their children were 7 years old. The results revealed that a child had higher odds of having behavioral issues if the mother had prenatal acetaminophen use at 18 and 32 weeks – which was observed in 4,415 women (53%) and 3,381 women (42%), respectively. The risk ratio (RR) was 1.42 for conduct problems and 1.31 for hyperactivity symptoms. Acetaminophen use at 32 weeks was also linked to emotion symptoms (RR: 1.29).

However, these increased risks were not observed for maternal postnatal or partner’s acetaminophen use — which was reported in 6,916 (89%) and 3,454 (84%) of those populations, respectively.

Although the study found that the drug increased attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)-like behaviors, the data did not show a connection between acetaminophen and offspring ADHD risk. In addition, a mother’s genetic risk of ADHD did not influence a child’s status either.

“Our findings suggest that the association between acetaminophen use during pregnancy and offspring behavioral problems in childhood may be due to an intrauterine mechanism,” the authors concluded.

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