Relief for worried mums after study finds painkillers do not cause ADHD in babies during pregnancy

When a woman is pregnant, she instinctively wants to protect her unborn baby from any harm and often refuses to take even the most ­commonly used over-the-counter drugs, such as paracetamol.

Well, now pregnant mums can rest easy and take that painkiller. A study has given paracetamol a virtually clean bill of health.

This new work is doubly important as it scotches the rumours that paracetamol causes autism and ADHD in the unborn babies of mothers who take it. Mums-to-be should now be freed of those anxieties, as should doctors.

The study by Drexel University in ­Philadelphia, US, is the largest ever ­undertaken on paracetamol use, and was done in collaboration with the Karolinska Institute in ­Stockholm, Sweden.

Together, they carried out the most robust risk analysis on giving birth to children with autism, ADHD or ­intellectual disability.

The strength of the study lies in the fact comparisons were made between siblings, where one baby had been exposed to paracetamol in the womb because the mum took it, and the other had not. The study encompassed data from 186,000 children whose mothers were prescribed paracetamol during pregnancy.

“By comparing siblings, we can control for important family factors,” says Brian Lee, an associate professor at Drexel University and co-author of the study. During its follow-up, which spanned up to 26 years, the researchers saw a slight increase in the prevalence of autism, ADHD and intellectual disability in the entire population.

So this study is important as it ­distinguished between trends in the general population and trends in the specific group of mums-to-be who take paracetamol.

But when siblings exposed and unexposed to paracetamol in utero were compared, the researchers found no differences. This is very good news.

“We did not see any increased risk of ADHD, autism or ­intellectual disability in the children that could be attributed to paracetamol use during pregnancy”, says Renee Gardner, associate professor of ­epidemiology and researcher at the Department of Global Public Health at Karolinska Institute, and co-author of the study.

“We hope that our findings can ­reassure parents-to-be who are faced with the choice of whether or not to use paracetamol during pregnancy.

“However, you should always listen to your doctor’s assessment of whether or not the medication is safe in each individual case,” she adds.

I feel sure this is reassuring news for mums-to-be, midwives, health visitors and doctors.