Taking Pain Meds During Pregnancy Might Be Linked to Behavior Issues in Kids

pregnant woman

As if there weren't already more than enough items on the list of "things to avoid" for moms-to-be: According to the results of one recent study, women who reported taking acetaminophen during pregnancy were more likely to have children with behavioral issues such as hyperactivity and other emotional problems. Considering that acetaminophen has typically been considered one of the safest pain relief options during pregnancy (and that it's used to treat everything from fevers to sciatica), this could be cause for major concern -- but don't freak out just yet! 

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The potential link was found when researchers analyzed data from approximately 7,800 mothers and discovered that over half of them took acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) at some point during their pregnancies. About 5 percent of those women reported behavioral issues in their children by the age of 7.

Researchers also looked at data on how many women reported taking the over-the-counter medication when their children were 5 years old, and whether or not their partners took acetaminophen. Because there was no association found between behavioral problems in children and mothers' postnatal use of acetaminophen (or the consumption of the drug by their partners), the researchers are making the case that taking acetaminophen during pregnancy must somehow be correlated with these later concerns. Still, not everyone is convinced.

As Hal C. Lawrence, MD, executive vice president and CEO of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), said in a statement to CafeMom, "ACOG and ob-gyns across the country have always identified acetaminophen as one of the only safe pain relievers for women during pregnancy."

And that's not changing based on this study, according to Dr. Lawrence.

"This new study, and other studies that have been conducted in the past, show no clear evidence that proves a direct relationship between the prudent use of acetaminophen during any trimester and developmental issues in children," he says.

More from CafeMom: 9 Natural Pain Relievers Safe to Use During Pregnancy (PHOTOS)

"Behavioral disorders are multifactorial and very difficult to associate with a singular cause," Dr. Lawrence continued, explaining that our brains don't stop developing until at least 15 months of age -- so that leaves room for children to be exposed to a number of factors that could potentially lead to behavioral issues.

"The study also has several limitations as it is not clear what dose of acetaminophen the mothers took, how long they took it, and for what reason," he adds. "This is all critical information that is missing in order to begin to ascertain a cause and effect."

Well, at least that's somewhat comforting! While of course no woman wants to take medication during pregnancy unless she absolutely has to, unfortunately sometimes you just absolutely have to. An untreated fever, for example, can be very dangerous during pregnancy, so it could be a huge mistake to refuse the treatment (acetaminophen) and risk devastating physical consequences just because there was a slight chance that maybe (maybe?) your child's chance of developing behavioral issues a few years down the road might go up by a percentage point or two. Until more definitive results are found, Lawrence urges both doctors and patients alike against making any radical adjustments.

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"The take-aways here are that physicians should not change clinical practice until definitive prospective research is done and, most importantly, patients should not be frightened away from the many benefits of acetaminophen," he says. "However, as always, any medication taken during pregnancy should be used only as needed, in moderation, and after the expectant mother has consulted with her doctor."

Sound advice, to be sure. After all, there's no shortage of things that have actually been proven to be harmful during pregnancy ... for now, better to focus on avoiding those!

 

Image via iStock.com/comZeal

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