A recent study published in the journal Reproduction has found that male mice babies exposed to paracetamol in utero showed changes to their reproductive tract and brain.
The research suggests that these developmental alterations could impair sexual behaviour into adulthood, with the mice also suffering from reduced ejaculations during mating, changes to urinary marking behaviour and less aggressive territorial displays towards intruders of the same gender.
“These findings add to the growing body of evidence suggesting the need to limit the widespread exposure and use of APAP (paracetamol) by pregnant women,” the researchers say.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners spokesperson Dr Wendy Burton says that is it still considered safe to use for the relief of pain or fever but it should only be taken if there is an obvious clinical need.
“It should not however be used ‘just in case’ in pregnancy nor at any other time,” Dr Burton told Women’s Health.
“Fever, especially in early pregnancy poses risks to baby, such that it is considered safer to use paracetamol than leave baby exposed to the fever,” she continues. “If a hot or cold pack or some stretching will help with pain, use those, but if not, paracetamol is still considered safe.”
Furthermore, Neuroscientist Professor Norman Saunders from the University of Melbourne told News.com.au that the mice in the study were exposed to a high dose of the pain killers in a short period of time, while those exposed to a lower dose did not have any changes in their brain structure or behaviour.
“It is to be hoped that pregnant women who have taken the occasional tablet of paracetamol because they have a headache or fever will not be alarmed by this study,” he added.
Paracetamol use during pregnancy has previously been called into question when a study examined the potential association between behavioural problems in children and their mother’s prenatal paracetamol use.
However, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) President Professor Michael Permezel stated at the time, “There is a significant body of evidence to support the safe use of paracetamol during pregnancy and a causal association of paracetamol and behavioural problems in the offspring is yet to be established. In fact, there are other possible explanations for the observation which some clinicians believe to be more likely. Women should therefore not be alarmed by these findings but nevertheless be aware of a possible association”.