Got A Headache? Think Twice Before Reaching For The Tylenol.

Acetaminophen and Pregnancy

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Acetaminophen and PregnancyPregnancy is super exciting but also kind of feels like a 40-week run of deprivation – caffeine, sushi, alcohol, and on and on. And it seems like every year, we get another warning about something we need to avoid during pregnancy. This time, it’s acetaminophen – more commonly known as Tylenol.

What’s The Deal?

Researchers in England drew data on more than 8,000 women from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (which started when the women were pregnant in 1991-92) to study the effects of acetaminophen on pregnancy. The women were asked at week 18 and week 32 whether they had taken acetaminophen recently. Overall, a little more than half of women had recently taken acetaminophen at week 18 and a little over 40% had done so at 32 weeks.

When the children were 7, researchers asked the mothers about whether the children had any behavioral difficulties. They found that the children of women who took acetaminophen at week 18 and 32 were 42% more likely to have conduct problems than those not exposed to the drug. They were also 31% more likely to have symptoms of hyperactivity. In addition, the children of women who had taken acetaminophen at 32 weeks were almost 30% more likely to suffer from emotional problems.

The effects seemed to be most pronounced for children whose mothers took acetaminophen in the third trimester.

Note that the study isn’t perfect – there isn’t any data on how much acetaminophen the women were taking or how often they were taking it. In addition, the behavioral problems were reported by mothers and not doctors, meaning there’s no set standard for what qualifies as a behavioral problem.

But What If I Have A Headache?

Pregnancy can do a number on your medicine cabinet – lots of the drugs that are perfectly safe for adults just aren’t safe for a developing fetus. Ibuprofen (like Advil), naproxen (like Alleve), and other NSAIDs are right out. They’re linked to heart defects and low levels of amniotic fluid. Now, it looks like acetaminophen may also be off-limits. So what are you supposed to do for your aches and pains?

Aspirin may be safe (and may actually be recommended if you’re at risk for clotting and certain other complications) but you’ll need to talk to your doctor. Otherwise, you may want to try some non-medication remedies. Some people like aromatherapy, a gentle massage wherever your muscles are sore, heating pads, ice packs, or just sitting in a cool, dark room to soothe a headache.

If that’s not enough, talk to your doctor about what options you have for pain management. They may recommend that you take aspirin or they may be able to offer other options to give you some relief.

If you’re struggling with frequent or severe headaches or major pain, you should go in and see your doctor right away. That could be a sign that you’re suffering from complications and you need to get checked out. You should also see your doctor if you have a fever; it may be that the risks to your little one of you sweating it out are worse than the risk of a dose of Tylenol.

Better Safe Than Sorry

This is a new study and it’s not perfect – it could turn out to be an issue with the self-reported acetaminophen use and behavioral issues. But those numbers are quite high and the study was peer-reviewed and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s for Pediatrics. And that makes it worth at least considering.


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