Associations between acetaminophen use during pregnancy and ADHD symptoms measured at ages 7 and 11 years

PLoS One. 2014 Sep 24;9(9):e108210. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0108210. eCollection 2014.


Objective: Our aim was to replicate and extend the recently found association between acetaminophen use during pregnancy and ADHD symptoms in school-age children.

Methods: Participants were members of the Auckland Birthweight Collaborative Study, a longitudinal study of 871 infants of European descent sampled disproportionately for small for gestational age. Drug use during pregnancy (acetaminophen, aspirin, antacids, and antibiotics) were analysed in relation to behavioural difficulties and ADHD symptoms measured by parent report at age 7 and both parent- and child-report at 11 years of age. The analyses included multiple covariates including birthweight, socioeconomic status and antenatal maternal perceived stress.

Results: Acetaminophen was used by 49.8% of the study mothers during pregnancy. We found significantly higher total difficulty scores (Strengths and Difficulty Questionnaire parent report at age 7 and child report at age 11) if acetaminophen was used during pregnancy, but there were no significant differences associated with any of the other drugs. Children of mothers who used acetaminophen during pregnancy were also at increased risk of ADHD at 7 and 11 years of age (Conners' Parent Rating Scale-Revised).

Conclusions: These findings strengthen the contention that acetaminophen exposure in pregnancy increases the risk of ADHD-like behaviours. Our study also supports earlier claims that findings are specific to acetaminophen.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / adverse effects*
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / adverse effects*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / chemically induced*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / diagnosis*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / chemically induced*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / diagnosis*


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic
  • Acetaminophen

Grants and funding

The initial study was funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand. The 12 month postal questionnaire was funded by Hawkes Bay Medical Research Foundation. The 3.5 year follow-up study was funded by Child Health Research Foundation, Becroft Foundation and Auckland Medical Research Foundation. The 7 year follow-up study was funded by Child Health Research Foundation. The 11 year follow-up was funded by Child Health Research Foundation and the National Heart Foundation. E. A. Mitchell and J. M. D. Thompson are supported by Cure Kids. The 3½, 7 and 11 year follow-ups were conducted in the Children’s Research Centre which is supported in part by the Starship Foundation and the Auckland District Health Board. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.