If you’re like most folks advising pregnant patients on pain and fever control, you’ve advised against ibuprofen and recommended acetaminophen. It is, after all, considered to be generally safe throughout pregnancy, in contrast to the alternatives.
I’m afraid I do not know precisely what to make of this study, but it is the latest in a context of several other studies linking maternal acetaminophen use during pregnancy with behavioral issues in young children. These authors link surveys of pregnant women performed over a decade ago with follow-up surveys of their children, with specific emphasis on identifying potential cofounders for their observed association.
The ultimate conclusion is fairly clear from just the title, with the subtitle of “Evidence Against Confounding”. An association is clearly observed between those they identify with likely or confirmed usage of acetaminophen and increased behavioral and attention difficulties in childhood. However, the evidence against confounding is rather incomplete. There are small differences in maternal psychiatric illness, maternal smoking, and maternal alcohol use favoring normally behaved children – and, while these authors attempt to control for these factors, this still introduces some element of statistical tomfoolery. There are also several non-genetic and non-prenatal risk factors for ADHD, and these authors are able only to collect a handful of these – absent completely any observations of the home environment of the children evaluated. Finally, no dose-response relationship is ultimately measured, as well.
I would, of course, ultimately advise minimal medication exposure in pregnancy, regardless. If pain control is necessary, it is not clear this risk – if true – is specifically of greater magnitude than those associated with alternative analgesia. For, this does not yet change practice.
“Association of Acetaminophen Use During Pregnancy With Behavioral Problems in Childhood”