Tylenol consumption during pregnancy is linked to ADHD

Tylenol (acetaminophen) is one of the most common medications taken during pregnancy, but a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) may put a halt to this practice.  The study found that pregnant women who take Tylenol at least one day a week over a 20 week period are at the highest risk of having a baby who is subsequently diagnosed with HKD (hyperkinetic disorder), ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder) and ADHD-like behaviors.   Children whose mothers took Tylenol while pregnant had up to a 40% higher risk of having a diagnosis of ADHD.  In addition, the risk of ADHD appeared to increase with the amount of Tylenol taken by the mother during pregnancy.  Strong effects of Tylenol consumption were seen when pregnant women took the drug for 6 weeks or more, and the effects were even stronger when mothers took the drug for 20 weeks or more.  In fact, the risk for the ADHD disorders increased to 50% when expecting mothers took Tylenol for more than 20 weeks.

This study is getting a lot of attention because Tylenol has been thought of as one of the only medications that pregnant women can take for fever and pain – neither aspirin nor ibuprofen (Advil) should be taken during pregnancy, according to most medical experts.  In addition, fever in a pregnant woman must be controlled because it can cause serious injury to a developing baby.

What should pregnant women take for pain and fever? 

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, neurosurgeon and CNN medical correspondent, suggests using non-medicinal treatments for pain, such as massage.  Dr. Gupta does recommend taking Tylenol for fever, however, since fever can be extremely dangerous for a baby.  He emphasizes that it is important to minimize consumption of Tylenol when pregnant.  It is important for pregnant women to discuss all over the counter medications they are considering taking – including herbal supplements – with their physicians.

How does Tylenol hurt a developing baby?

According to the authors of the JAMA article, “the research data suggest that acetaminophen is a hormone disruptor, and abnormal hormonal exposures in pregnancy may influence fetal brain development.”  In other words, as a baby is developing, there are numerous hormones telling the body to do certain things; hormones tell the body to develop different organs, including the brain.  If some of these hormones are disrupted and are not behaving as they should, the brain may not be getting some of the signals it needs during some crucial points of development.

There appears to be no safe drug for pain and fever during pregnancy.

It is unfortunate that there appears to be no safe drug that pregnant women can take for pain and fever – especially for fever, which can be dangerous for a developing baby.

While the medical community is in agreement that this study is significant, the study is only showing an association between Tylenol use and ADHD, HKD, and ADHD-like behaviors; there is no causal relationship shown.  It will take a lot more time for research to show a cause-and-effect relationship between the disorders and Tylenol consumption during pregnancy.

Other risk factors for ADHD

Last year we wrote about a study by the Kaiser Permanente Foundation that showed that when a baby is deprived of oxygen before or during birth, the baby has an increased risk of developing ADHD.  The study found that babies who experienced hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE / birth asphyxia) had the highest risk for ADHD.  HIE is brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation near the time of birth.  This oxygen deprivation can be caused by a lack of oxygen in the baby’s blood and / or a lack of blood flow to the baby’s brain.

There are many conditions that can cause HIE, such as placental abruption, uterine rupture, umbilical cord prolapse, nuchal cord, preeclampsia, and delayed emergency C-section when the baby is in distress.  The Kaiser Permanente Foundation study found that preeclampsia (maternal high blood pressure) was associated with a 34% increased risk of a child developing ADHD.  The association between HIE and ADHD was strongest in premature births, breech presentation, transverse lie presentation (shoulder first) and umbilical cord problems.  Breech, transverse lie and cord problems increase the chance of a child developing ADHD by 13%.

Knowing the risk factors for ADHD is important because early detection and faster treatment have been shown to increase the effectiveness of ADHD treatment.


HIE is very serious because it can cause conditions such as ADHD, cerebral palsy, seizures, intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities, periventricular leukomalacia (PVL) and hydrocephalusJesse Reiter, the co-founder of Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers, is currently recognized as one of the best medical malpractice attorneys in America by U.S. News and World Report 2014, which also recognized ABC Law Centers as being one of the best law firms in the country.

If your child was diagnosed with a permanent disability, the award winning attorneys at ABC Law Centers can help.   We have helped many families and children throughout the country obtain compensation for lifelong treatment, therapy and a secure future.  Our firm has numerous multimillion dollar verdicts and settlements that attest to our success, and no fees are ever paid to our firm until we win your case.  Email or call Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers at 888-419-2229 for a free case evaluation.


Acetaminophen Use During Pregnancy, Behavioral Problems, and Hyperkinetic Disorders ONLINE FIRST
Zeyan Liew,Beate Ritz,Cristina Rebordosa, Pei-Chen Lee, Jørn Olsen. JAMA Pediatr. Published online February 24, 2014.

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