Common Painkillers Used During Pregnancy Can Cause Birth Defects

Popping over-the-counter painkillers to relieve those common aches and pains during pregnancy could come at a very high cost.

Many women do so. In fact, 8 out of 10 women take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin to deal with their pregnancy-related pain.

But a new study published in the scientific journal BMJ Open finds that pregnant women who take painkillers are more likely to have a preterm birth or a baby with birth defects.


Birth Defects Linked to OTC Pulls

“The ease of access to painkillers, in combination with misinformation on the internet, raises safety concerns,” study author Aikaterini Zafeiri, told The U.S. Sun. “This is especially when self-medication decisions are taken during pregnancy without medical advice.”

The study examined data from 151,000 births over 30 years in Scotland and found that babies born to mothers who said they took painkillers were at a 57 percent higher risk of needing neonatal hospital care, 50 percent more likely to be premature, and 28 percent more likely to be underweight compared to babies whose mothers did not take the pills.

The study also found that the danger of stillbirth or death shortly after birth were more likely, along with birth defects in the brain, spine, and penis.

About 1 in 4 women report chronic pain during pregnancy, with neck pain, back pain and headaches topping the list of complaints.

Last year, 91 doctors and scientists issued a consensus statement in Nature Reviews Endocrinology urging caution in the use of acetaminophen during pregnancy. They cited growing evidence of the potential to interfere with fetal development as well as possibly leaving lingering effects on the brain, reproductive and urinary systems, and genital development.

“We are witnessing disturbing increases in the number of children with cognitive, learning, and/or behavioral problems,” the statement said, citing a U.S. National Health Interview Survey finding that between 2009 and 2017, about 1 in 6 children ages 3 to 17 had a developmental disability diagnosis.

One of the Most Common Medications

Acetaminophen is one of the most commonly used medications, with an estimated 65 percent of pregnant women in the United States using it. It has long been considered a safer option by regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration for use in pregnancy for pain and fever when used as directed.

However, health experts say most medicines taken during pregnancy can cross the placenta and reach the baby.

Scientists don’t fully understand why painkillers are risky. Acetaminophen is known as an endocrine disruptor and may affect crucial hormones. Ibuprofen can damage kidneys and affect blood circulation.

“Healthcare guidance needs updating,” Zafeiri wrote in the journal BMJ Open.

Experts recommend common-sense steps to help protect you and your baby until more is known on the topic, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

  • Avoid painkillers during pregnancy when possible.
  • Consult with your doctor. Always clear acetaminophen use with your doctor.  They might agree that taking it is the best option – or suggest a safer alternative.
  • Minimize use. If you do need to take acetaminophen during pregnancy, take it for the shortest amount of time possible and at the lowest effective dose to reduce fetal exposure.


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