Prenatal Acetaminophen Exposure Linked to Attention Problems in Children

Prenatal acetaminophen exposure, especially in the second trimester, is associated with attention problems at ages 2, 3, and 4 years, according to a study published in the January-February issue of Neurotoxicology and Teratology.

Megan L. Woodbury, Ph.D., from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and colleagues used data from a prospective birth cohort with 535 newborns enrolled to examine the association between prenatal exposure to acetaminophen and attention problems by trimester of exposure. At six time points across pregnancy, mothers reported the number of times they took acetaminophen. Caregivers completed the Child Behavior Checklist for ages 1.5 to 5 years when children were 2, 3, and 4 years of age.

The researchers observed an association for higher acetaminophen exposure during the second trimester of fetal development with higher scores at ages 2 and 3 years on the Attention Problems; Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Problems; Externalizing Behavior; and Total Problems scales. Higher Externalizing Behavior and Total Problems scores at 4 years were only seen in association with higher second-trimester exposure. The Attention Problems and ADHD Problems scores at ages 2 and 3 years were higher in association with greater cumulative exposure across pregnancy.

ADHD tends to go underdiagnosed in Black American children, with 14 percent officially diagnosed.

“Our most important finding was that with increasing acetaminophen use by pregnant participants, especially during the second trimester, their children showed more attention-related problems and ADHD-type behaviors, which we call ‘externalizing behaviors,’ at every age we measured,” Woodbury said in a statement.

One author serves on the Neurotoxicology and Teratology Editorial Advisory Board.

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