Using Pain Relievers During Pregnancy - Ascension Wisconsin

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Published on May 14, 2014

Using Pain Relievers During Pregnancy

When you’re pregnant and have a headache, fever or pain, it can be difficult to decide how to treat it.

Acetaminophen (sold under the brand name Tylenol) has long been considered a very safe over-the-counter pain reliever and fever reducer during pregnancy.

“It’s our first line recommendation for most people,” says Dr. Hillary Kufahl, OB/GYN with Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group in Brookfield.

Acetaminophen & Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

A new Danish study, however, is raising concerns that women who take acetaminophen during pregnancy could increase their unborn child’s risk for developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The study looked at 64,000 mothers and children and found that taking Tylenol one day a week during the first trimester can increase a child’s chances of developing ADHD.

In interviews with mothers who took acetaminophen during pregnancy, those children have an increased risk of showing ADHD signs around age seven.

While this latest study calls into question the safety of acetaminophen, Dr. Kufahl still recommends pregnant women use the medication because of the risks a fever can pose to an unborn baby.

She also notes that no definite link between acetaminophen and ADHD has been established. Dr. Kufahl advises pregnant women to cautiously take any medications, even those that are generally considered to be safe, including Tylenol.


Pregnant women are generally advised to avoid taking medication during the first trimester of pregnancy. However, with acetaminophen, the risk of an unborn baby developing ADHD seems to relate to when during pregnancy Tylenol is taken.

“The risk appears to be greater when acetaminophen is taken in third trimester and if it is taken during multiple trimesters,” says Dr. Kufahl.

So, what if you are pregnant and have a fever or headache? Dr. Kufahl recommends women call their OB/GYN because a fever can indicate something more serious.

“We really want the fever to come down,” she says. Some women do really well with a cool bath. But if that combined with acetaminophen doesn’t break the fever, then women should definitely call their doctor.

If suffering from a headache, Dr. Kufahl recommends pregnant women:

  • Take a nap
  • Rehydrate
  • Massage their neck and back if suffering from a tension headache

When all else fails and you need some relief, acetaminophen is still a safe choice. 

And while acetaminophen is considered safe, some other over-the-counter painkillers are not. Women should stay away from ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and naproxen, while pregnant. These drugs are generally not recommended during pregnancy, particularly during the third trimester.

The Bottom Line

“We need to be cautious about anything we take during pregnancy,” says Dr. Kufahl. “It’s best to always check with your OB/GYN first before taking anything.”

Learn more about Pregnancy & Birthing care at Wheaton Franciscan.

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Using Pain Relievers During Pregnancy