Study Shows Pregnant Women Who Take Tylenol Have Higher Risk of Hyperactive Children

A number of women take acetaminophen — or Tylenol, as it's more commonly referred to — during pregnancy. But after a few recent reports debating the safety of taking acetaminophen while pregnant, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been evaluating research studies regarding the drug. The list of potential risks so far has been slightly uncertain, but a new study from JAMA Pediatrics reveals that taking Tylenol during your pregnancy could mean you're more likely to have a hyperactive child.

The study, which was conducted in the UK with 14,500 families, examined the connections between a child's behavioral issues and their mother's prenatal acetaminophen use. During the study, 53 percent of mothers reported taking acetaminophen at 18 weeks, and 42 percent said they took it at 32 weeks, and the results suggest that timing was important.

Researchers found that a mother taking the drug at 18 weeks of pregnancy was associated with a greater chance of her child having hyperactivity and conduct problems, and taking it at 32 weeks was associated with an increased risk of her child having emotional symptoms and total difficulties.

"We found stronger association between maternal acetaminophen use and multiple behavioral and emotional problem domains during the third trimester than during the second trimester," says lead author of the study Evie Stergiakouli, PhD. "Given that there is active brain development and growth during the third trimester, this finding could indicate that there are developmental periods when the brain is more sensitive to acetaminophen exposure."

However, acetaminophen and hyperactivity in children do not have a simple cause-and-effect relationship.

"Behavioral disorders are multifactorial and very difficult to associate with a singular cause," says Dr. Hal C. Lawrence, CEO of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "The brain does not stop developing until at least 15 months of age, which leaves room for children to be exposed to a number of factors that could potentially lead to behavioral issues."

In spite of all this research, taking acetaminophen while pregnant is still not considered completely off limits. It is important to carefully weigh the benefits and risks of taking over-the-counter medication while pregnant — versus allowing a fever or pain to persist — with your doctor.