Prenatal acetaminophen use linked to sleep, attention problems in preschoolers
Acetaminophen use during pregnancy is associated with sleep and behavior problems consistent with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a study by Penn State College of Medicine researchers.
Acetaminophen is a common drug used to treat a variety of issues, including fever, infection, muscle pain, headache, migraine, colds and allergies. Traditionally, the medication has been considered by medical professionals to be safe for use during pregnancy. However, according to Kristin Sznajder, assistant professor of public health sciences and lead author, emerging studies support the idea that this drug may affect child development and may be associated with attention problems.
Sznajder said their new study confirms these trends and was also the first to observe an association between acetaminophen use during pregnancy and child sleep challenges.
“Pregnant people experience pain, fever and other ailments that could be alleviated through the use of acetaminophen,” said Sznajder, a Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences researcher. “While the medication may provide relief in the moment, research increasingly indicates there may be downstream effects that could be detrimental to child development. More research is needed so appropriate recommendations can be made to pregnant people.”
The researchers used data from a study of more than 2,400 women who had never given birth before and followed them and their children from the third trimester of pregnancy to 3 years postpartum. Women were surveyed once during their pregnancies about their medication use and frequency and stress levels. Of these, 41.7% of women reported using acetaminophen during pregnancy.
The participants were then interviewed at 1, 6, 12, 18, 24, 30 and 36 months after their child was born. At the 36-month interview, participants were asked to rate their child using a three-point scale to describe how often they exhibit a wide variety of neurodevelopmental and behavioral outcomes (very often true, somewhat or sometimes true, and not true) like “can’t sit still or restless,” “avoids looking others in the eyes” and “doesn’t want to sleep alone.” Scores for each behavior were then compiled to determine whether children scored highly in the domains of emotionally reactive, anxious or depressed, withdrawn, sleep problems and aggressive behavior.
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