Taking paracetamol while pregnant ‘can harm your baby’s development’, new study warns

TAKING paracetamol while pregnant ‘can harm your baby’s development’, a new study has warned.

It may lead to neurodevelopmental problems in the child – such as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and autism.


You should consult your doctor about taking medication during pregnancyCredit: Getty – Contributor

Other potential risks include lower IQ and infertility, say scientists.

An international team reviewed studies on humans, animals and cell lines over the last 26 years.

Corresponding author Prof David Kristensen, of the University of Copenhagen, said: “Many suggest paracetamol can alter foetal development.”

It is the most common over the counter pill taken by pregnant women. Up to two in three use it to relieve pain or fever.

The team said it disrupts hormones by working in a similar way to controversial chemicals called phthalates – used to make plastic soft and flexible.

But experts say that the findings don’t change recommended use of the drug during pregnancy.

Dr Sarah Stock, Reader and Consultant Maternal and Fetal Medicine, University of Edinburgh Usher Institute, said: “The team have done a good job of bringing together existing evidence, but unfortunately, much of that evidence is not robust enough to draw any conclusions that paracetamol use in pregnancy, especially occasional use, causes developmental problems in humans.

“Paracetamol is effective at reducing pain and fever, and so continues to be an important medicine that pregnant people should use if needed.

“Of course, pregnant or not, no-one should take a medication unnecessarily, for longer than necessary or at a higher dose than needed.”

The NHS says that paracetamol is safe to take during pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding.

It states that most medicines taken during pregnancy cross the placenta and reach the baby.

Official guidance states: “Before taking any medicine when you’re pregnant, including painkillers, check with your pharmacist, midwife or GP that it’s suitable.”

Co author Professor Shanna Swan, of Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, said: “It lowers testosterone. It should be regarded as an endocrine disrupting chemical.”

The hormone is key to healthy male reproduction. One study found women who took paracetamol were more likely to have boys born with undescended testes – raising the risk of future troubles.

The UK watchdog, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, says paracetamol is one of the few painkillers generally considered safe if expectant mothers absolutely need to take it.

Prof Swan said: “There is now a significant body of evidence that suggests paracetamol disrupts the reproductive development of animals and humans, decreasing sperm count and fertility.

“It is similar in action to a class of chemicals called phthalates – sharing many of the same properties.”

There is also evidence paracetamol reduces fertility in females, said Prof Swan.


It is considered the safest analgesic for pregnant women and children but mounting evidence has linked prenatal exposure to poorer cognitive performance and behavioural problems.

Co author Dr Ann Bauer, of the University of Massachusetts Lowell, said: “Paracetamol in pregnancy increases the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in the child.

“They were primarily ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, language delays, decreased IQ and conduct disorders.

“This is particularly concerning because a large number of pregnant women take paracetamol – up to 65 percent in the United States.

“Even a small increase in risk could translate into a large number of affected children.

“We call for government and gynaecological associations to conduct new safety reviews of the neurological affects of paracetamol.”

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