New Swedish Study Links Acetaminophen with Language Delays

A new study including 754 Swedish women reveals that taking acetaminophen during pregnancy may be linked to language delays in children. Acetaminophen is a common over-the-counter pain and fever reliever that can pass into breast milk and may harm a nursing baby.

The study revealed that women who took this medication during their gestational period delivered children with more language delays as compared to others who did not. The delays were observed more in girls around the age of two as compared to boys who did not exhibit such delays. One possible cause could also be because boys typically develop language skills more slowly than girls.

For the most part, the use of acetaminophen during early stages of the pregnancy was found to be rather common with a whopping 59% of expectant mothers taking the medication at least once in their first trimester. Some even admitted to taking around 100 pills during that time.

The primary analysis of the study compared expectant women with a higher exposure, such as those who used the medication more than 6 times after conceiving with others who didn’t take any at all.

The baseline for detecting language delays was set at fewer than 50 words at 30 months. Researchers compared the mothers’ acetaminophen use with their children’s language development screenings and scores and found that approximately 10% of the children taking part in this study exhibited language delays at 30 months.

Of these, girls conceived from the high acetaminophen subjects exhibited nearly 6 times more language delays that others who had not used any medication. In addition, women who took more pills showed higher levels of acetaminophen in the urine and their daughters showed more language delays as well.

At the same time, the study did not show any substantial difference in language delays for boys, regardless of whether their mothers  took any acetaminophen or not.

While the reason for this difference has not been established by the researchers, they do propose one plausible theory. Typically, girls at 30 months do have more vocabulary than boys and having used acetaminophen during pregnancy may have diminished that advantage.

These new findings also remain consistent with earlier research that links prenatal exposure to acetaminophen to children with a higher rate of communication issues or others with a decreased IQ. Plus, use of the same medication while pregnant has also shown links with more cases of ADHD in children.

The Swedish research will go on monitoring children tested at the age of 2 and will re-assess language development when they turn 7. Other studies in the same field indicate that children with less than optimal learning development at a younger age continue to have developmental disorders and learning issues later on in life.

If further findings in the study can establish confirmed consequences, then it could be a game changer in the way acetaminophen has been used so far. Surprisingly, the medication is considered safe to take during pregnancy, and can also be a common ingredient in other over-the-counter medications.

Another alarming fact about acetaminophen is that not all women who take this medication do so for medical reasons alone. In fact, women may do so for others like trouble sleeping, anxiety and even depression.

Researchers involved in the Swedish study and other experts warn about the indulgent use of acetaminophen and speculate that just because something has been in use for so long, it should not be assumed as safe to use.

Data for this research was collected from the Swedish Environmental Longitudinal Mother and Child Asthma and Allergy Study (SELMA).