Possible effects of the painkiller paracetamol during pregnancy

Es is a sensitive issue: whether taking paracetamol during the pregnancy could have a negative impact on the development of the unborn child has long been the subject of heated debate in specialist circles. A research team from the Pennsylvania State University has now examined whether abnormalities can be found in children whose mothers had taken the drug during pregnancy. They have their results published in the journal Plos One.

The team evaluated the data of 2,422 mothers and their children: During a telephone interview in the 35th week of pregnancy, the expectant mothers provided information about which medications they had previously taken during pregnancy, in what dose, frequency and for what reason. However, since the women’s statements about dose and duration of intake were not usually specific enough, no further differentiation was made here and only between women with and without paracetamol intake. This leads to a first point of criticism: After all, the intake phase during pregnancy plays an important role in view of the different stages of sensitivity in child development, according to Wolfgang Paulus, senior physician and head of the counseling center for reproductive toxicology at the University Women’s Hospital in Ulm. Ian Musgrave, a pharmacologist at the University of Adelaide, also notes that the reasons for taking painkillers themselves – such as fever, infection and allergies – could also have had a potential effect on the child’s development.

Survey by questionnaires

At the age of three, they asked how the children were doing. For this purpose, the mothers – and not medical or psychological specialists – assessed the behavior of their child for different age groups using a standardized questionnaire, the so-called Child Behavior Checklist. Different statements such as “can’t sit still”, “avoids looking at others” or “don’t want to sleep alone” are queried using a scale. Depending on the severity, this can provide information about certain behavioral problems such as withdrawal, aggressiveness, sleep or attention problems.

After eliminating potential confounding factors such as prenatal stress, it was found that children whose mothers had taken paracetamol during pregnancy had a slightly higher incidence of sleep and attention problems. However, according to Paul, statistically speaking, there is “only a marginal connection”, and certainly no causal connection. In addition, questionnaires could serve as a screening tool to identify children at risk; However, they are neither suitable for a quantitative assessment of neurological development nor as a diagnostic tool for ADHD, for example. Heredity and family environmental conditions also played a role.

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