It is a sensitive topic: Whether taking paracetamol during pregnancy could have a negative impact on the development of the unborn child has long been the subject of heated debate among experts.

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 published their results 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 already gives rise 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 Clinic 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.

Possibly other factors are decisive

The latter should be regarded as a "serious factor", says Paulus.

"It is possible that mothers who use paracetamol more frequently during pregnancy differ in their behavioral patterns during the upbringing of their children from pregnant women who deliberately avoid taking medication." Gavin Pereira, epidemiologist and biostatistician at the Curtin School, agrees of Population Health in Perth, Australia.

"It's possible that mothers with underlying fears are more likely to take acetaminophen and report negative outcomes for their child, whether or not there is an underlying biological effect." who were taking acetaminophens such as paracetamol,

Both Paulus and Pereira recommend


acetaminophen during pregnancy for as short a time and as low a dose as possible — rather than on others

Avoiding pain medications with potentially even more problematic effects.

"Paracetamol remains a well-documented, safe analgesic during pregnancy," says Paulus.