Study Suggests Link Between Tylenol Use During Pregnancy and Language Delays in Children

by Ella

Up to two-thirds of pregnant individuals may turn to acetaminophen, commonly known by the brand name Tylenol, as a pain relief option. Widely regarded as a safe painkiller during pregnancy, a recent study published in the journal Pediatric Research suggests that frequent use of acetaminophen may be associated with language delays in young children.


Conducted by researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign as part of the Illinois Kids Development Study, the research analyzed a cohort of 532 newborns. Language data was collected at 2 years of age for 298 participants and at 3 years of age for 254 participants.


Throughout pregnancy, mothers were regularly questioned about their acetaminophen use, both during the second and third trimesters, with follow-up 24 hours after giving birth. The study revealed that acetaminophen use during these trimesters was linked to significant delays in early language development. Specifically, each additional use of acetaminophen in the third trimester correlated with a decrease of two words in a 2-year-old’s vocabulary.


Megan Woodbury, PhD, a lead study author and graduate research assistant at the university, emphasized the potential impact, stating, “If a pregnant person took acetaminophen 13 times – or once per week – during the third trimester of that pregnancy, their child might express 26 fewer words at age 2 than other children that age.”


Notably, the study pointed to the third trimester as having the most substantial impact on language development in 3-year-old children.

The significance of these findings arises as other painkillers, such as ibuprofen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are not recommended beyond the first trimester due to potential complications and adverse effects on fetal development. The second and third trimesters coincide with crucial periods of fetal brain development.

Pediatrician Dr. Gina Posner from MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center expressed concern, noting, “These findings are very concerning because acetaminophen was the only ‘safe’ medication to use for fever during pregnancy.”

Despite the study’s robust design and execution, experts urge caution in drawing definitive conclusions about the safety of acetaminophen for pregnant women at this stage. Dr. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, emphasized the need for more research before reaching conclusions.

Dr. Carl Baum, a professor of pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine, also stressed the importance of further investigation. He highlighted the question of whether the study revealed a causal relationship between acetaminophen and language development or merely a temporal association.

While the study raises intriguing questions, medical professionals advise pregnant individuals to approach even “safe” medications with moderation and only when necessary. When in doubt, consulting with healthcare providers is recommended, with Dr. Ganjian adding, “These findings add to the ongoing research on acetaminophen and fetal development, but they shouldn’t change current recommendations to avoid unnecessary medications during pregnancy.”


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