Pregnancy, Acetaminophen, & Autism

Acetaminophen has always been the go-to drug for pain relief during pregnancy. Doctors often prescribed acetaminophen as an OTC drug for mild to moderate headaches due to the low risk associated with pregnancies. The widespread use of acetaminophen for pregnant women in pain, however, may be coming to an end.

Recent research conducted by both university researchers and the US National Institutes of Health links excessive acetaminophen use to autism and ADHD. While the conclusions of the initial studies need additional research for a definitive conclusion, the studies had eye-opening results.

Studying the Effects of Acetaminophen on Pregnancy Risks

A National Institutes of Health-funded study conducted by doctors from Johns Hopkins University called the Boston Birth Cohort Study was used for acetaminophen research. Part of the study examined 24,000 participants, 996 of whom were tested for acetaminophen levels and associated byproducts at birth.

The results of the study on acetaminophen were stunning. Children in the study were checked in on 8.9 years after birth. Of the 996 births, 25.8% had been diagnosed with ADHD, 6.6% had been diagnosed with autism, and 4.2% had been diagnosed with both. This correlates to 2.9X the risk for ADHD and 3.6X the risk of autism (compared to the lowest third of diagnoses in participants).

Researchers in the study noted the results supported earlier research linking acetaminophen to increased autism & ADHD risk during pregnancy. They also noted that future studies will be needed for a definitive conclusion. Some factors not used during the test (health of the mothers, preexisting conditions of the mothers, etc) may also need to be factored in for future research.

Is it Safe to Take Acetaminophen During Pregnancy?

This is definitely a question best left to your doctor. While the answer may be somewhere along the lines of ‘use very sparingly,’ some unanswered questions make this difficult to answer. Researchers and doctors are questioning and studying the impact of acetaminophen and other drugs taken early during pregnancy versus late in pregnancy.

Without conclusive research, there is no ‘recommended dose’ for doctors to prescribe. Talking to your doctor is the only way to get a good answer to this question. Your doctor knows you and your needs better than general internet information ever will. If you are experiencing pregnancy-related pain, please talk to your doctor before taking any OTC medications!

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