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During my second pregnancy, I developed a large and painful ganglion cyst on my right wrist. I’d had issues with that wrist for close to 15 years but never to this level. I was dropping things because I lost hand strength and it was painful to move it.
Not a good combination with a toddler!
So, I went to Target, got a wrist brace, and decided to call my OBs nurse line on Monday.
When I spoke to the nurse, it was pretty clear that my options were limited. If I needed something for the pain she told me I could take acetaminophen (common brand name of Tylenol) because it was a safe option in pregnancy.
Well, I’ve always been wary of taking much of anything while pregnant so I decided I would just manage and, luckily, I found that the homeopathic Arnica I was taking for my hip pain also helped my wrist.
Is Acetaminophen Bad for You?
This was the root of my question.
I knew it was technically considered a safe product (and one of the only ones) for pregnancy and to use with babies.
But – I’ve read too many recalls and stories about “safe” drugs being pulled from the market after horrible consequences (hello Thalidomide and Zofran!) to make me comfortable taking much of anything.
So, what is acetaminophen?
The most common acetaminophen brand name in the United States is Tylenol. Acetaminophen is considered a miscellaneous analgesic that is often used to treat fevers and for pain relief. Acetaminophen is processed by our bodies mainly in the liver.
One of the main acetaminophen dangers is, because it is so commonly found in multiple products, it can be very easy to accidentally overdose. Acetaminophen overdose is one of the most common overdoses called in to poison centers.
An overdose can be toxic and cause damage to the liver and possibly kidneys. An overdose may even lead to death!
All products that contain acetaminophen are required by the FDA to have a black box warning about possible liver damage.
Using Acetaminophen While Pregnant
After the call to my doctor’s office, imagine my surprise when I ran across this recent study where the researchers found an increased risk of ADHD and/or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) related to the amount of exposure to acetaminophen as found in the children’s cord blood.
This was a small study that followed 996 children from birth.
Nearly 26% with ADHD, about 7% with ASD, and over 30% with some other developmental disability.
They also noted that the higher the amount of exposure as found in the cord blood, the higher the risk of diagnosis.
Because this was a small study, the researchers recommend additional studies. But evidence continues to mount as more and more studies have the same findings as to a possible link between acetaminophen use and these issues.
Using Acetaminophen for Infants
In fact, a previous study listed acetaminophen use in babies and young children as a high risk factor for autism (along with several other risk factors).
Not only that, but experiments in lab rats showed that acetaminophen use in the rats’ infancy significantly changed brain development and structure with lower social interactions and sensory functions in males.
And there have been several other studies also with similar findings to acetaminophen use:
“A sibling-controlled study with over 48,000 children in Norway showed that the use of acetaminophen but not ibuprofen by mothers during pregnancy was associated with problems in the psychomotor, behavioral, and temperamental development of children at 3 years of age. Further, a study in Bristol, United Kingdom, of more than 7000 children showed that maternal use of acetaminophen during pregnancy was associated with hyperactivity and “emotional symptoms” at age 7. In addition, a study at UCLA in collaboration with scientists in Denmark and Taiwan found that children whose mothers used acetaminophen during pregnancy were at higher risk of being diagnosed with hyperkinetic disorder…” (Parker, William; Hornik, Chi Dang; Bilbo, Staci; et al. The role of oxidative stress, inflammation and acetaminophen exposure from birth to early childhood in the induction of autism. Journal of International Medical Research. 2017 Apr; 45(2): 407-438)
There has also been a link to asthma and acetaminophen use, though what the connection is hasn’t been found.
The first study showing a connection between acetaminophen and autism was published in 2008 and a further connection was noticed that the increase in asthma, autism, and ADHD began in the early 1980s which was when the use of aspirin was replaced with acetaminophen for children.
Also of interest – temporary dips in the autism increase over the years happened at the same time as there were acetaminophen poisonings mentioned in the media which caused the use of acetaminophen to drop for a while.
What Acetaminophen Alternative Is There?
Baby Tylenol is everywhere that parent’s look.
There are no warnings, no news stories (that I’ve seen anyway) letting parent’s know that a common medication could be harmful to their child.
All you really find as a parent is how to dose your baby and all the different ways you can give it to them (liquid, suppository, chewable).
So many parents are still giving their babies Tylenol for teething, fevers, and many other things with no idea that these studies continue to be published.
And for moms who are breastfeeding, acetaminophen is passed through breastmilk.
Even though there have been numerous studies showing a link with acetaminophen use with autism, further studies need to be done.
When working with pregnant women and young children, this causes ethical issues making studies more difficult.
But – the good news is that we don’t have to use acetaminophen on ourselves or our kids. With all the potential drawbacks, it just makes sense to find other ways of dealing with pain and fevers.
The study authors note that there has been no evidence of acetaminophen ever saving a life while there are definite associations with asthma and developmental delays, not to mention the possible link to autism (Parker, William; Hornik, Chi Dang; Bilbo, Staci; et al. The role of oxidative stress, inflammation and acetaminophen exposure from birth to early childhood in the induction of autism. Journal of International Medical Research. 2017 Apr; 45(2): 407-438).
So, not using acetaminophen has little to no negative effect and may actually protect children from several issues.
For pain relief, maybe like me you’ll discover that a natural alternative not only helps with the pain but also eventually resolves the issue!
For teething, there are so many wonderful options out there! You can check out my How to Naturally Soothe a Teething Baby at Night post and my Brilliant Natural Teething Remedies Every Mom Needs post for lots of ideas.
No time to read right now? Check out my favorite natural teething items here!
To learn more about homeopathy, you can find more info at the American Institute of Homeopathy.
Fevers is another common reason we give kids (and ourselves) Tylenol. As parents especially, fevers can be scary. But it turns out that many of our fears are based on myths.
Fevers are actually our bodies helping us fight bacterial or viral infections.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t uncomfortable though.
Homeopathy can be an option or you can try some simple things like sponge baths, staying hydrated, and nourishing the body with bone broth (for more ideas check out this Farmers’ Almanac article).
So, Is Acetaminophen Bad for You?
Maybe – possibly – probably? The jury is still out but there’s more and more evidence that, especially for babies, it’s got some definite red flags and more negatives than positives.
Unfortunately, many medical professionals may not be aware of the potential issues with acetaminophen use in pregnancy and early childhood or that some researchers have gone so far as to say that it should not be recommended even in major surgeries for infants until more is known about the link with autism.
And, even if they are, there just aren’t many options in conventional medicine to replace it with.
Finally, if you took acetaminophen when pregnant or gave it to your young child – please – don’t blame yourself.
We all do the best we can with what we know at the time, and when we know better, we do better.
There may be times where you feel that you must take or give this medication. If that’s the case, consider taking Dr. Aisling Murphy’s advice and take the lowest dose you can for the shortest amount of time that you can.
PIN FOR LATER
All information in this blog post from Mamma in Pearls is meant for educational and informational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products and/or information are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease. Readers are advised to do their own research and make decisions in partnership with their health care provider. If you are pregnant, nursing, have a medical condition or are taking any medication, please consult your physician.