Associations of acetaminophen use during pregnancy and the first year of life with neurodevelopment in early childhood

Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol. 2020 May;34(3):267-277. doi: 10.1111/ppe.12632. Epub 2020 Jan 22.


Background: Over-the-counter analgesic use during pregnancy, particularly acetaminophen, may be associated with negative developmental outcomes in children.

Objective: Estimate associations of prenatal and early-life exposure to acetaminophen in early childhood with cognitive, motor, and language skills in two birth cohorts.

Methods: The American Project Viva cohort (1217 mother-child pairs enrolled 1999-2002) assessed cognition at approximately 3 years using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test and the Wide Range Achievement of Visual Motor Abilities (WRAVMA). The Brazilian 2015 Pelotas Birth Cohort (3818 mother-child pairs) assessed cognition at 2 years using the INTERGROWTH-21st Neurodevelopment Assessment. We used linear regression to estimate associations of acetaminophen use during pregnancy (Project Viva and Pelotas) and infancy (Project Viva) with children's cognitive scores adjusted for maternal age, pre-pregnancy body mass index, education, parity, race/ethnicity, smoking and alcohol use during pregnancy, depression during pregnancy, antibiotic and ibuprofen use during pregnancy, household income, and child's sex.

Results: In Project Viva, exposure to acetaminophen in both the 1st and 2nd trimester of pregnancy was associated with lower WRAVMA drawing scores (β -1.51, 95% CI -2.92, -0.10). However, in Pelotas, exposure to acetaminophen in both the 1st and 2nd trimester of pregnancy was not associated with INTER-NDA motor scores (β 0.02; 95% CI -0.05, 0.09) and was associated with higher INTER-NDA total scores (β 0.08, 95% CI 0.01, 0.16). Other comparisons did not show evidence for any associations.

Conclusions: Inconsistencies and lack of specificity of the findings did not clarify the research question considering that we still have a large variability and uncertainty to define the risk or safety in the use of acetaminophen related to cognition in early childhood. More studies using better exposure assessment and better confounding variables are needed to clarify these associations.

Keywords: acetaminophen; cohort studies; infant; neurodevelopmental disorders; pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen* / adverse effects
  • Acetaminophen* / therapeutic use
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / adverse effects
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / therapeutic use
  • Brazil / epidemiology
  • Child Behavior / drug effects
  • Child Development / drug effects
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders* / chemically induced
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Nonprescription Drugs / adverse effects
  • Nonprescription Drugs / therapeutic use
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications* / drug therapy
  • Pregnancy Complications* / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy Trimesters*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects* / chemically induced
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects* / diagnosis
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects* / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic
  • Nonprescription Drugs
  • Acetaminophen