Tylenol Revisited: It’s NOT as Benign as People Think – Especially During Pregnancy

pediatric health careWhat you choose to put in your body during pregnancy directly impacts your child’s health – and Tylenol (aka acetaminophen/paracetamol) is no exception. For decades Tylenol has been commercially endorsed as THE “go-to” over-the-counter pain reliever, with over 60% of women in the United States relying on it to alleviate aches and pains related to pregnancy. However, mounting evidence continues to underscore the potential short- and long-term health risks it poses to babies – before and after birth.

This isn’t our first cautionary Tylenol tale (see: Tylenol’s Dark Side — Not to be Taken Lightly and Tylenol’s Dark Side Just Got Darker). Below, we offer a pediatric health care “refresher course” on the dangers of pre- and postnatal acetaminophen use. 

Increased Risk of Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Prenatal exposure to acetaminophen can impact your baby’s brain development and result in a lifetime of behavioral difficulties.  This 2016 JAMA Pediatrics study reveals that children whose mothers consumed acetaminophen at 18 and 32 weeks of pregnancy were at higher risk of having conduct problems, hyperactivity (ADHD), and emotional symptoms.

A 2016 study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) expands upon this research with evidence linking prenatal acetaminophen exposure to a greater number of autism spectrum symptoms in males.

How is this possible? In short, mounting research indicates that acetaminophen acts as a hormone disruptor, and abnormal hormonal exposures in pregnancy can have a harmful and long-lasting influence on fetal brain development.

Increased Risk of Childhood Asthma

Ongoing research, such as this 2016 study from the International Journal of Epidemiology, continues to link the use of acetaminophen during pregnancy to the rise of asthma in children. The most likely mechanism is depletion of glutathione “the mother of all antioxidants,” which can result in inflammations in the airways.

What’s exceptionally alarming is that even a single dose of Tylenol may deplete glutathione, meaning it may not take much for it to have long-term impacts to your baby’s developing respiratory system.

This newest research expands on past studies that identified acetaminophen as a factor in the acceleration of pediatric asthma diagnoses in the 1980s when Tylenol began to be used more frequently (in place of aspirin).

Ineffective Vaccinations

Many (if not most) mainstream pediatric health care practices premedicate infants and children with acetaminophen before immunizations to prevent fever and discomfort associated with the shots. However, solid evidence reveals that Tylenol may blunt the body’s ability to create an adequate immune response to vaccines.

Breast milk is a proven safeguard against post-vaccine fevers. A 2010 Italian study published in Pediatrics showed that half as many infants who were exclusively breastfed developed post-vaccine fevers compared to babies who weren’t breastfed at all. This is yet another reason to breastfeed your baby whenever possible.

At GetzWell Pediatrics, where parents may choose to vaccinate their children on a staggered schedule (fewer vaccines per appointment) and we strongly discourage Tylenol premedication, we rarely see post-vaccine fevers, fussiness or pain.

Narrow Therapeutic Range Can Lead to Overdose

For a drug that is so widely consumed, it carries the risk of being easily overdosed. Tylenol has a very narrow therapeutic range, which means that its pain-relieving effects are achieved in a small dosing range which is easy to exceed. Furthermore, its pain-relieving effect is short acting, prompting people to over-consume, which can ultimately lead to acetaminophen overdose. This 2013 podcast, “Use Only As Directed,” from the public radio show This American Life covers staggering studies and stories on the topic.

With the threat of overdose an alarming possibility, we conclude that the more Tylenol a mother consumes during pregnancy the greater her risk of giving birth to a child with serious physical or behavioral challenges – while also endangering her own health in the process.

A Safe Approach To Pregnancy Pain Relief

At GetzWell Pediatrics, we are very sensitive to the inevitable aches and pains that come with pregnancy and childhood ailments. Our mission is to work closely with our families to find safe remedies and preventive solutions that are right for moms and babies alike – solutions that do not include the use of Tylenol.

Our unique approach to pediatric health care is best exemplified through our “Greening the Womb” practice where we evaluate your specific nutritional needs, toxic exposures, sources of stress, prenatal/perinatal psychology, family health history, exercise level, etc.— to deliver individualized recommendations for a safe and healthy pregnancy. Part of this process is helping you with safe pain management using natural remedies whenever possible.

There are safe alternatives to Tylenol – and many of them are available for purchase in both of our San Francisco offices and also at our virtual pharmacy: Fullscript. To learn more about the dangers of Tylenol, safe pain relief alternatives, and/or our Greening the Womb process, please reach us at our San Francisco offices at 415-826-1701.

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