According to a study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, the use of aspirin and acetaminophen during pregnancy has been linked to the potential development of cerebral palsy in unborn children.
Researchers based in the Denmark’s University of Copenhagen analyzed nearly 190,000 mother-child pairs during this study and found that women who took aspirin at least once during pregnancy were more than twice as likely to deliver children with bilateral spastic cerebral palsy.
In addition, the study also found that women who used acetaminophen (the active ingredient in drugs such as Tylenol) during pregnancy also had a slightly increased chance of bearing children affected by unilateral spastic cerebral palsy. Because 65-70 percent of women in the United States alone use acetaminophen-containing medications during pregnancy, this raised concerns in mothers and medical researchers alike.
Do aspirin and acetaminophen truly increase the risk of cerebral palsy and other birth injuries if used during pregnancy?
The authors of the study were not able to establish a direct causal connection between aspirin and acetaminophen use during pregnancy and cerebral palsy. However, the results do suggest further study is necessary.
While the results specific to cerebral palsy are ultimately inconclusive, it is worth noting that certain medications may cause harm to an unborn child if used while pregnant. If you have any concerns at all you should talk with your doctor.
Results of the Study
Using medical records, the authors of the study divided those mothers who had taken aspirin or acetaminophen during pregnancy from women who hadn’t:
- 49% used acetaminophen at least once during pregnancy
- 3% used aspirin at least once during pregnancy
- 4% used ibuprofen at least once during pregnancy
After that, they identified all of the children who had been diagnosed with some form of cerebral palsy, which came to a total of 357 babies. The team used statistical models to figure out whether women who used a painkiller in pregnancy were more likely to give birth to children with the neuromuscular disorder.
They found that children who were exposed to aspirin during pregnancy were 2.4 times more likely to develop bilateral spastic cerebral palsy compared to unexposed children and that those exposed to acetaminophen reportedly saw a 30-60 percent increase in cerebral palsy diagnoses compared to those who had not been exposed.
Unfortunately, due to the limitations of the study, it is unclear whether the possibility of confounding by underlying diseases (in either the mother or her child) contributed to the prevalence of cerebral palsy among those who participated in the study, or if it was solely the medications which contributed to the increase in the risk factor.
One thing was made clear in the study, however—certain medicines should only be taken during pregnancy if recommended by (and under the supervision of) a trusted doctor.
The Hidden Dangers of Full-Dose Aspirin
The potentially dangerous side effects of aspirin use during pregnancy have been well-documented for decades. Aspirin can negatively affect a baby’s growth, increase the risk of a placental abruption, and can also result in bleeding complications for both the mother and her unborn child.
While a single dose of aspirin is typically not enough to cause permanent harm to an unborn child, habitual use of aspirin and certain over-the-counter drugs in full adult dosages can be one of many factors in an increased risk of birth injuries.
If aspirin is to be used while pregnant, it should only be done so in low dosages, which in the absence of high-risk factors for preeclampsia have not shown negative side effects in either mothers or their children.
Acetaminophen Use While Pregnant
The use of drugs containing acetaminophen (most commonly Tylenol) has been a point of contention and confusion between doctors and medical researchers. While there have been purported links between acetaminophen and the onset of ADHD-like symptoms, there has been no conclusive study that has linked acetaminophen to serious birth injury such as cerebral palsy.
Doctors have recommended acetaminophen to mothers for generations as a suggested remedy to the common head and body aches associated with pregnancy, particularly in the second and third trimester. Acetaminophen is commonly regarded as one of the safest medications for a pregnant woman to take due to the high rate of benefit compared to the low percentage of negative side effects.
Despite this, however, aspirin and acetaminophen-containing products are still considered drugs and should be treated as such. If you are concerned that taking certain medications may increase the risk of harm to either yourself or your child, ask your doctor about alternative methods of treatment during your pregnancy.