Acetaminophen, sold in the U.S. as Tylenol and in Europe as Paracetamol, was once considered one of the safest pregnancy medications around and has been used by pregnant women for more than 50 years. Lately, though, there have been concerning things in the news. In 2009 the FDA expressed concern that maximum recommended daily doses were too high, and in 2012 and 2013 there were recalls of both baby and adult acetaminophen products.
Then in 2013 a Norwegian study found that moms taking acetaminophen/paracetamol for more than 28 days during pregnancy were more likely to have children who went on to have poor motor development, and in 2014 a large-scale Danish study was released that seems to show a clear link between taking acetaminophen and a child’s risk of developing ADHD and more severe kinetic disorders, with women who reported taking it in more than one trimester appearing to be 37 percent more likely to have a child later diagnosed ADHD. What we can’t know for sure is if the drug was the direct cause, or if it was perhaps a factor that was causing the women to experience pain in the first place– a low pain threshold or chronic inflammation issues, for instance.
So is it safe to treat pain during pregnancy with acetaminophen? Or should you take something else? Or tough it out?
When it comes to pregnancy pain relief, even with these new studies taken into account, the other options have risks, too. Opiates and opioids like oxycodone are potentially addicting and can cause constipation, aspirin is not recommended because of the risk of bleeding issues. Non-steroidal anti-inflammitory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen appear to be safe when taken short-term in the second and third trimesters, but they are not recommended for the third trimester.
So long story short, your best bet is to find alternative means of pain relief whenever possible. For aches and pains try massage, stretching or physical therapy, for a sinus headache try a saline rinse in a warm shower. Check the ingredients labels of over-the-counter drugs, especially those that claim to treat multiple symptoms to make sure you’re not taking acetaminophen along with your decongestant or allergy drug.
If you have a fever or are experiencing intense pain on a short-term basis making it impossible for you to function, a few doses of acetaminophen are unlikely to cause long-term harm. Just be sure to take the minimum amount that helps (if some is good that doesn’t mean more is better) and don’t go over the recommended daily dosage. Seek help from a doctor if you experience ongoing pain that doesn’t resolve in a few days.