Acetaminophen use in pregnancy linked to language delays in child

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There’s a lot of debate about whether it’s safe to use acetaminophen, commonly known as Tylenol, during pregnancy.

Researchers at Northeastern University added new insights to this discussion with their recent study.

The study, led by Megan Woodbury, a postdoctoral research associate at Northeastern, explored how acetaminophen use during pregnancy might affect a child’s language development in early childhood.

The team found that children whose mothers took more acetaminophen during pregnancy showed more language development delays. This was particularly noticeable in male children, especially when the drug was used in the third trimester.

However, Woodbury emphasizes that it’s not clear if acetaminophen use is directly causing these language delays. She points out that it could be related to other factors like experiencing fever or illness during pregnancy.

Acetaminophen is one of the most widely used drugs globally. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists considers it safe for treating fever and pain during pregnancy.

But there’s growing concern about its potential impact on prenatal neurodevelopment, with some studies suggesting links to attention and behavior problems in children.

What sets this study apart is its detailed data collection. Researchers used data from 532 newborns from the Illinois Kids Development Study at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, collected between December 2013 and March 2020.

They measured acetaminophen use six times during pregnancy, allowing a detailed breakdown by trimester. Children were then evaluated for language skills at around two and three years old.

The results, published in Pediatric Research, showed no link between acetaminophen use in the first trimester and delayed language skills.

However, increased use in the second trimester was associated with lower language scores at age 3, smaller vocabulary, and shorter sentence length at age 2. In the third trimester, increased use was linked to smaller vocabularies at age 2 and lower language scores at age 3, especially in boys.

Woodbury estimates that if a pregnant person takes acetaminophen about once a week during the third trimester, it could result in a vocabulary 26 words smaller than peers at age 2 and a 91% higher chance of less complex language skills.

So, is acetaminophen dangerous during pregnancy? Woodbury, who is pregnant herself and has used acetaminophen, advises a balanced approach. She suggests using it only when necessary, like when in significant pain or needing to reduce a fever. The key is to avoid constant use.

In summary, while acetaminophen is generally considered safe during pregnancy, this study suggests being mindful of its use, especially in the later stages of pregnancy, to avoid impacting a child’s early language development potentially.

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The research findings can be found in Pediatric Research.

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