Acetaminophen is often used to relieve aches and pains during pregnancy. However, experts advise that you should use it sparingly, as per a study carried by a group of 91 scientists and medical experts who analyzed the possibility of acetaminophen exposure affecting the development of infants while in the womb.
Ann Bauer, a University of Massachusetts autism researcher, was the leader of the study. It analyzed 25 years of available data on painkillers in pregnancy, ranging from epidemiological to laboratory studies. The target of the research was to raise awareness among health workers and pregnant women.
According to the researchers, pregnant women should use the medication “at the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time,” and only as recommended, to decrease the possible health risk that was noticed by some studies.
The drug is also known as paracetamol and is often the go-to solution for relieving mild-to-moderate pain and fever during pregnancy, and it’s used by approximately half of pregnant women worldwide.
However, the research showed that most pregnant women rely on painkillers like acetaminophen for headaches, muscle pain, knee and back pain, though the drug might not be that efficient at fighting such pains.
Still, it’s understandable that people use it, especially as acetaminophen is one of the most popular medicines used to treat pain and fever, and ibuprofen is not recommended during the later stages of pregnancy.
Concerns regarding using acetaminophen in pregnancy are a result of rising rates of developmental disorders among children (though that could be just a result of increased recognition and awareness of conditions like autism that manifest on a certain spectrum).
Acetaminophen is labeled as an endocrine disruptor, which can interfere with the hormones required for safe, natural development.
However, it’s not yet fully known if acetaminophen exposure in the womb can provoke behavioral or developmental disorders as numerous genetic and environmental factors come into play.
“We should reduce our use of acetaminophen when possible throughout the entire pregnancy,” said Bauer in an interview with STAT News.
The group of scientists warns that using painkillers during pregnancy may be harmful to the infant, claiming that doctors should counsel women during the early stages of pregnancy regarding how to limit the use of drugs like acetaminophen.
The research data, gathered from over 220,000 mother-child pairs, discovered enough evidence to suggest a relationship between uterine acetaminophen exposure to neurodevelopmental outcomes in kids, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), general hyperactivity, and behavioral difficulties.
Fewer studies analyzed the patterns of acetaminophen use and dosages, but those who did notice an increased risk of developmental disorders with consistent use of painkillers during pregnancy.
“Based on this research, we believe we know enough to be concerned about the potential developmental risks associated with prenatal [acetaminophen] exposure .. and therefore call for precautionary action,” wrote Bauer and colleagues in their statement.