Acetaminophen use during pregnancy and behavioural problems in childhood: evidence against confounding

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Abstract

Importance  Acetaminophen (paracetamol) is used by a large proportion of pregnant women. Research suggests that acetaminophen use in pregnancy is associated with abnormal fetal neurodevelopment. However, it is possible that this association might be confounded by unmeasured behavioral factors linked to acetaminophen use.

Objective  To examine associations between offspring behavioral problems and (1) maternal prenatal acetaminophen use, (2) maternal postnatal acetaminophen use, and (3) partner’s acetaminophen use.

Design, Setting, and Participants  From February 2015 to March 2016, we collected and analyzed data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a prospective birth cohort. We studied 7796 mothers enrolled in ALSPAC between 1991 and 1992 along with their children and partners.

Exposures  Acetaminophen use was assessed by questionnaire completion at 18 and 32 weeks of pregnancy and when the child was 61 months old.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Maternal reports of behavioral problems using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) when the children were 7 years old. We estimated risk ratios for behavioral problems in children after prenatal, postnatal, and partner’s exposure to acetaminophen and mutually adjusted each association.

Results  Maternal prenatal acetaminophen use at 18 (n = 4415; 53%) and 32 weeks of pregnancy (n = 3381; 42%) was associated with higher odds of having conduct problems (risk ratio [RR], 1.42; 95% CI, 1.25-1.62) and hyperactivity symptoms (RR, 1.31; 95% CI, 1.16-1.49), while maternal acetaminophen use at 32 weeks was also associated with higher odds of having emotional symptoms (RR, 1.29; 95% CI, 1.09-1.53) and total difficulties (RR, 1.46; 95% CI, 1.21-1.77). This was not the case for maternal postnatal (n = 6916; 89%) or partner’s (n = 3454; 84%) acetaminophen use. We found the associations between maternal prenatal acetaminophen use and all the SDQ domains unchanged even after adjusting for maternal postnatal or partner’s acetaminophen use.

Conclusions and Relevance  Children exposed to acetaminophen prenatally are at increased risk of multiple behavioral difficulties, and the associations do not appear to be explained by unmeasured behavioral or social factors linked to acetaminophen use insofar as they are not observed for postnatal or partner’s acetaminophen use. Although these results could have implications for public health advice, further studies are required to replicate the findings and to understand mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)964-970
Number of pages7
JournalJAMA Pediatrics
Volume170
Issue number10
Early online date15 Aug 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016

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