Researchers have found a link between using paracetamol during pregnancy and an increased risk of behavioural problems in children.
While alcohol and smoking are strongly discouraged, paracetamol has generally been seen as safe and is used by many during in pregnancy for pain and fever.
However, Evie Stergiakouli of the University of Bristol and coauthors analysed data for nearly 8,000 mothers and found use of paracetamol at 18 and 32 weeks of pregnancy was associated with increased risk of conduct problems and hyperactivity symptoms in children.
Paracetamol use at 32 weeks of pregnancy was associated with higher risk for emotional symptoms and difficulties in children.
However, the authors say the risk of not treating fever or pain during pregnancy should be carefully weighed against any potential harm to offspring.
Further studies are needed, according to the article in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
Health experts urge caution using this study.
The data for the research was from the 1990s when doses of paracetamol were larger than they are today.
And Dr Ian Musgrave, at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Adelaide, says the study didn’t investigate the amount of paracetamol taken or how long it was taken for.
Previous work shows that long term consumption, of one to four weeks, is a risk.
“Anyone taking paracetamol should follow the advice of their health practitioner and follow the dosage instructions for paracetamol,” he says.
Dr Luke Grzeskowiak, a specialist pharmacist, says further studies are still needed before changing clinical practice recommendations.
“Paracetamol is useful in treating fever and different types of pain and it still remains our first choice for treating these conditions during pregnancy,” he says.
“We would encourage pregnant women to talk to their local pharmacist or go and see their doctor for some advice if they are unsure of what to use and for how long to use it.
“The key message from this study is only to take paracetamol when absolutely necessary and to take it for the shortest possible duration, not to avoid it completely.”