Should You Take Tylenol During Pregnancy?


Recent sensational headlines scream that using acetaminophen (Tylenol) during pregnancy is linked with ADHD in children. On the surface, it’s easy enough for an expectant mother to rule out one more “dangerous” substance. However, despite misleading headlines to the contrary, the study in question does not prove that Tylenol causes ADHD in children. It’s an important distinction.

During the years that I was having babies (which seemed to go on FOREVER!), I was a pregnancy and pre-natal yoga teacher. I taught classes to thousands of pregnant women for nearly a decade. On the whole, I found that pregnant women wanted desperately to make healthy choices. But there was a culture of judgment that made it difficult for us – that I used to laugh at and call “the pregnancy police.” It was hard to make our own decisions in an environment that was intent on telling us everything we should not do if we “really cared” about a healthy pregnancy – like eat anything with sugar in it!

But it’s a slippery slope. If we allow partial evidence and bold news headlines to guide our decision-making, then we end up operating from a place of fear and anxiety. When we surrender our objective reasoning to sensational media, we lose faith: in our bodies, and in our ability to make healthy decisions for our selves and our families.

What We Know

Now, I’m not a physician, and I can’t speak to whether pregnant women should close their medicine cabinets and skip Tylenol to avoid ADHD. It’s clear from what I’ve read, though, that there is not enough scientific evidence to make a causal link between acetaminophen use during pregnancy and ADHD. It’s just not there.

There’s more to the story that the media often fails to mention. For example,

  • The study did not indicate at what dosage women took the pain-reliever. There’s a big difference between taking something once in a while for a fever, or three times a day for chronic headaches. How can we draw conclusions without this information?
  • Some ADHD reporting came from self-reports of parents and caregivers – not from diagnoses or medical information from doctors and psychologists.
  • Again, and worth repeating, researchers observed an association, a link, between ADHD and acetaminophen, but they have not proven that the condition is caused by it. The researchers themselves said further investigation is needed.

Here’s something else we know: nothing should replace a conversation with your doctor or medical provider. During pregnancy, it’s probably a pretty good idea to limit medication and the duration you take it whenever possible. But don’t allow half-truths and scare tactics to torture your every move for 9 months! Listen to your body, and trust yourself to make healthy decisions for yourself and your baby.

It’s Hard to Learn to Trust Yourself

I remember the first time I was pregnant. I read everything. I never ate anything I wasn’t supposed to eat. If What to Expect When You’re Expecting told me I could have salmon once a week but tuna no more than once a month, I listened. I took the recommended prenatal vitamins in the recommended dosage. I cut out sugar, salt, and medications. How oppressive, how regimented this “wisdom” was — how the “experts” said my pregnancy should be.

During that pregnancy, I did everything “right.” I followed the rules and the “expert” advice. And I lost the baby pretty late in the pregnancy. I was devastated.

For a while, I also lost faith in my body and in myself. Then I realized: everything in moderation. Even moderation. As parents, and expectant parents, we make the best choices we can. Then, we have to respond to what happens in life. We can’t control for every possibility and eventuality. And we can’t regiment and regulate our lives to an extreme based on one book, or newspaper article, or study.

What I can say to parents and prospective parents is that the sooner you can trust yourselves and your instincts, the more effective you’re going to be as parents. You will make better decisions for your family by using your own knowledge in tandem with science – not relying on the opinions of others – or the “pregnancy police” — to shape your life and define your parenthood.

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