Toddler daughters whose mothers have taken paracetamol during the first trimester of their pregnancy may have an “elevated rate” of language delay, according to a new study, as reported by News Medical. The study, which was published on the 10th of January by European Psychiatry, involved 754 Swedish women during weeks eight to 13 of their pregnancy. As such, 59 percent reported they’d taken paracetamol (otherwise known as acetaminophen) since becoming pregnant.
According to the study’s results, girls whose mothers have taken paracetamol more than six times during the first trimester are nearly six times more likely to have language development delay than girls whose mothers didn’t take the drug. The frequency of language delay among toddlers, based on a criterion of fewer than 50 words, was measured through a nurse’s assessment and a follow-up questionnaire.
Researchers assessed the children’s language development at 30 months of age, discovering later on that about four percent of girls and 13 percent of boys had suffered a delay.
Experts say that girls generally have the advantage over boys in language development in early childhood. The new research suggests that taking paracetamol during pregnancy may erase this advantage.
It’s not exactly clear why the drug could cause developmental problems in children, according to Shanna Swan, senior author on the study and professor of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in the U.S. But she and other researchers speculate that the hormonal effects caused by taking acetaminophen may have been the cause.
“Acetaminophen is hormonally active,” said. But when one takes into account the fact that hormonal changes affect the two genders differently, it does provide a logical explanation on why there’s a higher risk of language delays in girls compared to boys.
Christina Chambers, a pediatrics professor at the University of California, San Diego, agreed with Swan’s statement.
“There are examples of other prenatal exposures, and maternal events, that affect males and females differently,” Chambers said.
The study has limitations, Chambers admits, partly because the results are based on the women’s recollection of their medication history during pregnancy.
While findings suggest that pregnant women should be cautious about taking paracetamol, researchers are also suggesting that they use the drug whenever necessary, such as during a high fever, since a high temperature could pose risks to the fetus.
“This medication should probably be used only with caution, and limited to absolute need,” Chambers explained.
According to NHS, using acetaminophen during pregnancy is completely safe when taken in small doses, as reported by BBC.
The general consensus is that paracetamol is the pain reliever of choice during pregnancy since non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — such as aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen — pose risks to the fetus, specifically in late pregnancy, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.