Pregnancy, for most women, is a very happy time. It does, however, come with a number of worries. One of these is about being sure that any medication you take will neither harm the baby nor cause you to miscarry.
In reality, pregnancy does come with the odd ache and pain as well as the usual colds, flu or headaches that happen in daily life. Many women avoid medication of any sort both while trying to fall pregnant, and during their pregnancies, for fear that they might either not fall pregnant, miscarry or harm their unborn babies.
Sometimes, taking a painkiller just makes life – and pregnancy – a bit more bearable.
Paracetamol is one medication that is safe for women who are either pregnant or trying to fall pregnant.
What is Paracetamol?
Paracetamol (or acetaminophen in some countries) is used to treat pain and fever. You can buy it over the counter, i.e. without a prescription from your doctor. Paracetamol is available as a tablet or suppository. It’s also available in effervescent tablets: Cipladon can be dissolved in water so that you can take paracetamol as a drink. This liquid form can also be given to children under certain circumstances.
Paracetamol and pregnancy
For the healthcare professional, paracetamol is the first choice of painkiller for pregnant or breastfeeding women. Women who have taken paracetamol while they were pregnant and/or breastfeeding have not harmed themselves or their babies.1
Although most women prefer not to take medication of any sort while they’re expecting, as many as 50% of women globally have taken paracetamol during pregnancy.2
Caution and moderation
There is a lot of truth in the expression, that we can have too much of a good thing. While this applies to all medicines, it especially applies during pregnancy to pregnant women who take paracetamol. There are some studies that suggest that too much paracetamol during pregnancy could affect the development of your baby. Taking paracetamol either in large quantities and/or very often could potentially result in your baby having a minor neurodevelopmental disorder. These disorders could be deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) or autism spectrum disorder.2
Bear in mind too, that paracetamol is an endocrine disruptor. In other words, it is a drug that can interfere with your hormones and female reproductive health. For babies, some research suggests that taking paracetamol can affect the development of the fetus. Among these is the risk of deformations in the genital area, developmental problems such in males, the testes not descending properly before birth, or the potential of early puberty in girls.
Although some of this research is inconclusive, it is a reminder to use paracetamol with caution, during pregnancy, especially in the first three months (trimester). It is during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy that some medicines are known to cause birth defects and it is also during this time that your baby develops his/her internal organs.3
How much paracetamol can I take when I am pregnant?
Bearing in mind what we’ve already said, both about paracetamol being a safe and low-risk pain killer, it’s still best to take the lowest possible dosage while you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
The standard dose of paracetamol, for adults, is:
- either one 1g, or two 500mg tablets (in other words, a total of 1000 milligrams or 1 gram of paracetamol)
- doses should be at least four hours apart
- only 4 (four) doses in a 24-hour period
Also, if you’re taking any other medications – whether prescribed by your doctor or not – always check to see that they do not also contain paracetamol. By doing this, you will be sure of the amount of paracetamol that you’re taking and avoid potentially overdosing and harming yourself and your baby.
What are the side effects of, and signs of a paracetamol allergic reaction?
You might be allergic to paracetamol if you have any one or more of the following reactions:
- an itchy rash or hives
- difficulty breathing
- swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat
If you have any of the following side effects, consult a health care professional because you could have paracetamol overdose:4
- nausea, stomach pain, and loss of appetite
- dark urine, and/or your stools are pale, like the colour of clay when you go to the toilet
- jaundice, i.e., if your skin and eyes begin to go yellow
Taking paracetamol, if necessary and as prescribed by your doctor, will ensure that your pregnancy is a happy, healthy, and pain-free time.
Disclaimer: The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.
- Paracetamol Best use of medicine in pregnancy. UK Teratology Information Service [Online] Available from <https://www.medicinesinpregnancy.org/medicine–pregnancy/paracetamol/> 26/06/2022
- Clinic Barcelona. 2021. Using paracetamol during pregnancy may alter foetal development [Online] Available from <https://www.clinicbarcelona.org/en/news/using-paracetamol-during-pregnancy-may-alter-foetal-development> 26/06/2022
- A Z. Bauer, S H. Swan, D Kriebel, Paracetamol use during pregnancy -a call for precautionary action. 23/09/2021<https://www.nature.com/articles/s41574-021-00553-7> 28/06/2022
- Stewart, J (Reviewer) Paracetamol [Online] Available from <https://www.drugs.com/paracetamol.html> 26/06/2022