Researchers Say There’s a Link Between ADHD in Kids and Acetaminophen Use During Pregnancy

Editor’s Note: This post is not intended as medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or physician before treatment of any kind.

Pregnant mother and son are talking
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I’ll admit it: I took acetaminophen while I was pregnant — all three times. I had horrible sciatica with my first son, back pain with my second, and pulled muscles from vomiting with my third. They tell you not to take ibuprofen for any number of reasons, and acetaminophen was all I had left. But a statement released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Monday had me thinking twice.

In it, the AAP reveals that a study published in November’s issue of Pediatrics found that mothers who engage in long-term use of acetaminophen, in addition to fathers who take it for more than 29 days at a time prior to conception, have children with a higher than average risk of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Moms who took the over-the-counter pain reliever for less than seven days while pregnant were found to have a less than average risk of having a child with ADHD, while moms who took it for more than 29 days had a twofold increased risk of birthing a baby with the condition.

I definitely took acetaminophen for more than 29 days during each of my pregnancies. And during my first and second pregnancies, I think I popped acetaminophen more days than I didn’t. As it turns out, my two oldest sons also have ADHD. The oldest has more of the inattentive version: he loses everything, has trouble remembering things, and can’t read social cues well. My younger son, well, when I’m teaching him reading, he flops, flips, and rolls off the couch. I have had to literally hold him in place at times — a solution disagreeable to both of us. He can also be counted on to wander away in stores and throw epic tantrums.

So when I first read this AAP statement, my heart hit my throat. Did I make him this way? Is this all my fault? Should I have just put up with the pain?

But the study’s authors say that while there is enough information to urge caution, more research is still needed. Furthermore, the AAP says that the study “does not provide definitive evidence for or against a causal relation between maternal use of acetaminophen, which is the recommended medication for pregnant women with fever or pain and is used by an estimated 65 to 70 percent of pregnant women in the United States.”

Translation: This is an interesting connection that certainly merits further investigation, but we can’t tell you anything one way or the other. We just wanted to make you aware.

Then I thought of a few things. While I did take acetaminophen fairly regularly while pregnant, I have a splendid case of ADHD myself — as does my husband. ADHD is known to be a highly heritable trait in some families. According to ADDitude Magazine, a child with ADHD is four times more likely to have a close relative with the condition. Most identical twins share the trait, and at least one-third of fathers who had ADHD as kids have children with ADHD themselves. My kids received a double dose of ADHD genetics. And while acetaminophen may or may not have played a role, they were certainly at an increased risk to inherit the condition. It was then that I stopped feeling guilty and started to breathe again.

Still, these numbers are pretty compelling. Out of 112,973 children, including 2,246 with an ADHD diagnosis, researchers were able to associate a mother’s acetaminophen use with doubled risk of ADHD in children. They were able to do the same with fathers, therefore linking a genetic component to the condition. I suppose if I’m ever pregnant again, I’ll stick to heating pads and good thoughts just to be to the safe side.

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