Researchers have found a link between using paracetamol during pregnancy and an increased risk of behavioural problems in children. Scientists have found an association between mothers who took the drug in the first and third trimester of pregnancy and hyperactivity and emotional problems in their seven-year-old children.
Paracetamol is the world’s most popular painkiller and is the only one deemed safe to take during pregnancy. But there is a growing body of research suggesting it could affect the development of children in the womb, with studies linking it with conditions as diverse as asthma, infertility and autism. Pregnant women have been told there is no need to panic – they should continue to take the lowest dose needed for the shortest time possible and see their doctor if they have any concerns. While alcohol and smoking are strongly discouraged, paracetamol has generally been seen as safe and is used by many during in pregnancy for pain and fever. However, Evie Stergiakouli of the University of Bristol and coauthors analysed data for nearly 8,000 mothers and found use of paracetamol at 18 and 32 weeks of pregnancy was associated with increased risk of conduct problems and hyperactivity symptoms in children. Paracetamol use at 32 weeks of pregnancy was associated with higher risk for emotional symptoms and difficulties in children. However, the authors say the risk of not treating fever or pain during pregnancy should be carefully weighed against any potential harm to offspring. Dr Tim Overton, of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: ‘It is important to highlight that from these results we cannot determine a direct link between paracetamol usage and any behavioural problems. ‘Paracetamol is one of the most common medicines used to reduce a high temperature and ease pain; it is safe and is used routinely during all stages of pregnancy.