TAKING paracetamol during pregnancy “may affect your baby’s development,” a new study has warned.
This can lead to neurodevelopmental problems in children – such as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and autism.
Other potential risks include a lower IQ and infertility, scientists say.
An international team has reviewed studies in humans, animals and cell lines over the past 26 years.
Corresponding author Professor David Kristensen, University of Copenhagen, said: “Many suggest that paracetamol may affect the development of the fetus.”
It is the most common over-the-counter pill taken by pregnant women. Up to two in three people use it for pain or fever relief.
The team said it disrupts hormones by working in the same way as controversial chemicals called phthalates – used to make plastic soft and pliable.
But experts say the results don’t change the drug’s recommended use during pregnancy.
Dr Sarah Stock, Reader and Consultant in Maternal and Fetal Medicine at the Usher Institute at the University of Edinburgh, said: âThe team did a good job of putting together the existing evidence, but unfortunately much of it. of this evidence is not strong enough to draw any conclusions that the use of paracetamol during pregnancy, especially occasional use, causes developmental problems in humans.
âParacetamol is effective in reducing pain and fever, and therefore continues to be an important drug that pregnant women should use when needed.
“Of course, pregnant or not, no one should take medication unnecessarily, for longer than necessary, or at a higher dose than necessary.”
The NHS says paracetamol is safe during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
It says that most of the drugs taken during pregnancy cross the placenta and reach the baby.
Official guidelines say: “Before taking any medication during pregnancy, including pain relievers, check with your pharmacist, midwife or general practitioner to make sure it is appropriate.”
Co-author Professor Shanna Swan, Icahn School of Medicine in Mount Sinai, New York, said, âIt lowers testosterone. It should be considered as a chemical endocrine disruptor.
The hormone is the key to healthy male reproduction. One study found that women who took paracetamol were more likely to have boys born with undescended testicles, which increases the risk of future problems.
The UK watchdog, the Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency, says paracetamol is one of the few pain relievers generally considered safe if pregnant women absolutely need to take it.
Professor Swan said: “There is now a significant body of evidence suggesting that paracetamol disrupts the reproductive development of animals and humans, decreasing sperm count and fertility.
“It’s similar in action to a class of chemicals called phthalates – sharing many of the same properties.”
There is also some evidence that paracetamol reduces fertility in women, Professor Swan said.
It is considered the safest pain reliever for pregnant women and children, but growing evidence has linked prenatal exposure to poorer cognitive performance and behavioral problems.
Co-author Dr Ann Bauer, University of Massachusetts Lowell, said: âParacetamol during pregnancy increases the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in children.
âThese were mainly ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, language delays, decreased IQ and conduct disorders.
“This is of particular concern because a large number of pregnant women take paracetamol – up to 65% in the United States.
âEven a small increase in risk could result in a large number of affected children.
“We call on the government and gynecological associations to conduct further safety reviews of the neurological effects of paracetamol.”
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