Is Acetaminophen/Paracetamol Safe to Take While Pregnant?

Acetaminophen is undoubtedly one of the most commonly used over-the-counter drugs available. It’s also known as paracetamol, and the medication can be used to treat a variety of mild to moderate forms of pain. For example, acetaminophen and paracetamol are often used to treat aches and pains from illnesses like the cold or flu, headaches, osteoarthritis and tooth pain. Acetaminophen and paracetamol can also be used as a fever-reducer. Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in Tylenol, and it’s also included in different cold and flu combination medications sold over-the-counter. Acetaminophen is sometimes combined with stronger, narcotic pain relievers such as an opioid in prescription drugs. Since acetaminophen is used so often, most people view it as inherently safe, and for the most part, that’s true. However, what about during pregnancy? Can you take Tylenol while pregnant? The information regarding the use of Tylenol while pregnant varies somewhat.

First, can you take Tylenol while pregnant? Generally, the answer is yes, but increasingly, research has come to light showing that it might not be as absolutely safe as it was once thought to be. Can pregnant women take Tylenol Extra strength formulations? Again, maybe, but they might consider alternatives before reaching for Tylenol while pregnant. Another question often asked is “can I take Tylenol Cold and Flu while pregnant?” It can be riskier to take Tylenol Cold and Flu while pregnant, because of a combination of ingredients included in these formulations.

How Does Acetaminophen Affect a Fetus?

For many years, acetaminophen and brand-name versions like Tylenol were considered almost completely safe for use during pregnancy. However, new reports have created a different perspective. For example, there was a study released in 2016 which linked the use of acetaminophen while pregnant to future behavior problems in children. Acetaminophen became looked at as one of the many medications that when used during pregnancy may be linked to delayed language skills, autism symptoms, ADHD and asthma. This study looked at the use of acetaminophen while pregnant at 18 and 32 weeks, and then looked at the children when they were five years old. The children whose mothers used acetaminophen during pregnancy were around 1.4 times more likely to have behavioral problems. They were 1.3 times more likely to be hyperactive.

It’s important to note the most recent studies don’t show acetaminophen or paracetamol cause these problems but only that there may be a link. A 2014 study looked at 871 children and linked acetaminophen to ADHD symptoms in children aged seven and 11. Some animal studies have shown a link between acetaminophen-based medications and abnormalities in brain development. There was a study in Norway of 53,000 children that showed a possible link between acetaminophen use during pregnancy and childhood asthma.

For woman wondering can you take Tylenol while pregnant, and can pregnant women take Tylenol Extra Strength, the best answer is to speak with a medical professional. Even though these research studies have shown possible effects on a fetus, the risk remains very low. These studies also don’t take into account factors such as why the mother was using acetaminophen or paracetamol in the first place, which could affect findings. Some doctors believe that using acetaminophen very infrequently carries minimal risk for mothers or the fetus. They do feel that risks could go up if a mother were using it very often, such as more than three times a month throughout a pregnancy. For women wondering can you take paracetamol when pregnant in the first trimester, the guidelines are pretty much the same across trimesters. Speak with your physician and try to limit the use regardless of the trimester, to err on the side of caution.

A separate question often asked is “can I take Tylenol Cold and Flu while pregnant?” With Tylenol Cold and Flu there are different formulations, and these medications can include a combination of acetaminophen with something else such as dextromethorphan, which is a cough suppressant. Some versions of Tylenol Cold and Flu may also be for daytime or nighttime, so they may have extra ingredients. Taking Tylenol Cold and Flu might not be safe during pregnancy, depending on the specific ingredients. It’s something to speak with a doctor about before using it.

Alternatives to Acetaminophen and Paracetamol While Pregnant

The alternatives to acetaminophen that might be considered during pregnancy depend on the condition being treated. For example, aches and pains can be treated with warm (not hot) baths or compresses. Some women might prefer acupuncture or prenatal massage as a way to deal with pain. For a cold or the flu, options such as additional vitamin C might be helpful. Relaxation techniques, yoga, meditation or extra rest can all be good alternatives to using acetaminophen while pregnant as well. However, pregnant women should also know that in certain situations untreated pain, fevers or illnesses can pose their own risk to an unborn child. The best course of action is always to consult a doctor when you’re not feeling well and also before taking medicine, even an over-the-counter option.

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The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.