Pregnant women who take paracetamol are more likely to have children with behavioural problems, new research suggests.

Scientists have found an association between mothers who took the drug in the first and third trimester of pregnancy and hyperactivity and emotional problems in their seven-year-old children.

However pregnant women have been told there is no need to panic – they should continue to take the lowest dose needed for the shortest time possible and see their doctor if they have any concerns.

In the latest research, carried out by the University of Bristol, scientists analysed records of 7,796 mothers who gave birth between 1991 and 1992 in the UK, reports Daily Mail.

The women had been asked at 18 weeks and 32 weeks of pregnancy whether they had taken any paracetamol.

They and their partners were asked again about their paracetamol use when the child was 61 months old. Children were then tested at seven years old to see if they had any emotional or behavioural problems.

Just over half of mothers had used the painkiller at 18 weeks, with 42 per cent using it at 32 weeks. Following birth, 84 per cent of mothers and their partners used it.

Around 5 per cent of the children studied had behavioural problems.

The results showed a link between use of the drug at 18 weeks with increased risk of conduct problems and hyperactivity symptoms in children, while taking paracetamol at 32 weeks was linked with emotional symptoms and overall difficulties.

There was no association between the amount of paracetamol taken by mothers and their partners after the birth with behavioural problems, which researchers said showed the children’s problems could not be explained by other social factors linked to paracetamol use.

Researchers suggested that paracetamol could affect a mechanism in the womb which affected brain development.

Author Dr Evie Stergiakouli said the extent of the results was ‘surprising’.

She added: ‘We found that maternal prenatal (paracetamol) use at 18 weeks was associated with higher odds of the offspring having conduct problems as well as hyperactivity symptoms.

‘(Paracetamol) use at 32 weeks was associated with higher odds of emotional symptoms, hyperactivity, as well as total difficulties.’

The study found the link between taking paracetamol and multiple behavioural and emotional problems was strongest when mothers took it in the third trimester of pregnancy.

The authors wrote: ‘Given that there is active brain development and growth during the third trimester, this finding could indicate that there are developmental periods when the brain is more sensitive to (paracetamol) exposure.’

They added: ‘Given the widespread use of (paracetamol) among pregnant women, this can have important implications on public health advice. However, the risk of not treating fever or pain during pregnancy should be carefully weighed against any potential harm to the offspring.’

Dr Tim Overton, of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: ‘It is important to highlight that from these results we cannot determine a direct link between paracetamol usage and any behavioural problems.

‘Paracetamol is one of the most common medicines used to reduce a high temperature and ease pain; it is safe and is used routinely during all stages of pregnancy.

‘Women should not be alarmed by the results of this study and we recommend that pregnant women continue to follow current guidance.’

He added that if the recommended dose of paracetamol did not control pain or fever, women should seek advice from their midwife, GP or obstetrician.

The Proprietary Association of Great Britain, which represents over-the-counter medicine manufacturers, said: ‘The results of this study should not alarm expectant parents as more research is needed in this area. The authors have also highlighted the potential risk of not treating fever or pain during pregnancy, over any potential harm that prenatal paracetamol use may cause to their offspring.’

Professor Ieuan Hughes, of the University of Cambridge, added that paracetamol was considered ‘safe’ in pregnancy and more research was needed before any public health decisions were made.

Dr Luke Grzeskowiak, a specialist pharmacist and researcher at the Robinson Institute and University of Adelaide, told SMH while the study was interesting, it was not strong enough for pregnant women to stop using paracetamol if they needed it to relieve pain or fever.

“We’re talking about an extra one to two cases [of behavioural problems] per 100 births being linked to paracetamol use,” he said.

“So in this study, 95 per cent of mums who took paracetamol during pregnancy had a child with no problems at seven years of age … I think that message gets lost in a lot of this.”

Dr Grzeskowiak told SMH paracetamol was still the first choice of painkiller for pregnant women because others, such as anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (the active ingredient in Nurofen) had been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage during early pregnancy, and harm to the fetus’ kidneys and heart later in pregnancy.

“The key message from this study is only to take paracetamol when absolutely necessary and to take it for the shortest possible duration, not to avoid it completely,” he said.

HEALTH risks to be aware of when taking paracetamol during pregnancy

Research also suggests that pregnant women who take paracetamol may be putting their baby at risk of developing childhood asthma.

While another study suggests taking paracetamol while pregnant is possibly linked to autism and hyperactivity in children.

Can I take paracetamol if I’m pregnant?

Health Direct recommend Paracetamol is considered the first choice of painkiller if you are pregnant as it has been taken my large numbers of pregnant women without any adverse effect on the mother or baby.

However, if you take paracetamol when pregnant, make sure you take it for the shortest possible time.

Can I take paracetamol if I’m breastfeeding?

Health Direct recommend Paracetamol is the first choice of painkiller if you are breastfeeding.

It appears in breast milk in very small amounts which are unlikely to harm your baby.

If you take paracetamol when breastfeeding, make sure you take it for the shortest possible time.

Share your comments below.

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  • Best to take as little of anything like this as you can during pregnancy and while you are feeding. I gave up coffee 100%.


  • Wow, very interesting research.


  • i tried to avoid this while pregnant and tried to deal with the cause by drinking more water or having a rest


  • I still believe every thing in moderation – I hardly ever take off the shelf medication and when I was pregnant took even less. A headache can usually be relieved by having a glass of water, or some food, or a pressure point between the thumb and forefinger being pressed for a few seconds. No need for pills.


  • I don’t believe this research is thorough enough at all and noticed this was stressed in the news items on TV last night. I was assured by my Doctor that it was okay to take panadol, so I was happy to take his advice as needed. I had to take Maxalon through my entire pregnancy because I was nauseous 24/7 and my OB assured me this was safe to do so. I would suggest always checking with your Doctor.


  • I suppose you just have to exercise caution and check with the doctor.


  • I was advised to take paracetamol as I had constant headaches while pregnant. This was to be used as a last resort. Before I got to the stage of needing anything I tried laying on the bed in a dark room and had soft music to try and relax. It worked sometimes so didn’t need to take medication too often


  • Doctors have also said about this study that it is unclear if it is possibly the paracetamol or the symptoms that led the mother to take it in the first place that may be linked.


  • During the pregnancy of my son I had on a certain point enormous pain in the tips of my lungs. I took some paracetamol without effect. I phoned the emergency Gp who advised me to take some paracetamol. When I said I already did that he said to take some more and lay down. When I had a scan 2 days later I was diagnosed with a pneumonia and was hospitalized and had to take far more medication. Luckily without ill effect !


  • Vert interesting. I took panadol occasionally for migraine


  • I had a virus when pregnant with my daughter and the Dr continuously told me over and over that paracetamol was completely safe. I only took the smallest amount thank goodness, just enough for a brief respite to get of bed and have something to eat


  • I was advised it was totally safe, but I minimised use anyway through general caution. I’m glad I did.


  • Some pregnant ladies will struggle to walk if they are suffering chronic back pain like some do, especially in the last 6 – 8 weeks. If they have diagnosed sciatica apparetnly walking in a pool with supervision is helpful too. I know of one who was referred to a physio who besides treatment recommended the pool under supervision.


  • Very important to spread this information, because for a long time paracematol has been considered quite safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding.


  • I suppose any sort of medication is going to carry risks for an unborn baby.


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