The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

UI research questions effect of taking Tylenol during pregnancy on children

Anika Khandavalli
Johnson & Johnson Tylenol pain reliever pills spill on a table. In a recent University study, researchers suggest a link between pregnant people taking acetaminophen and their child’s language development.

Two University studies linked mothers’ Tylenol intake during pregnancy with attention and language issues in young children. The research adds to recent scientific literature questioning the safety of ingesting the drug during pregnancy. 

These studies were a part of the Illinois Kids Development Study conducted by the Beckman Institute. IKIDS researches how various chemical and environmental factors during pregnancy affect children’s neurodevelopment.

Acetaminophen, more commonly known as Tylenol, is one of these chemical factors. Tylenol is often used by pregnant women to relieve fevers and other issues and has been historically regarded as the safest drug to ingest while pregnant. 

“We found that around 70% of women in our cohort took acetaminophen at least once, so it’s widely used, and that is because it is the only analgesic drug that is currently considered to be safe for use in pregnancy,” said Susan Schantz, professor in LAS and lead investigator for IKIDS. 

However, recent studies have begun to question Tylenol’s previously perceived safety. This research, led by Schantz and University alum Megan Woodbury, sought to further investigate how exposure to acetaminophen in the womb affects a child’s postnatal development.

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To conduct this study, researchers met with a group of roughly 500 mothers from the Central Illinois area six times throughout their pregnancy and asked them to report on their acetaminophen use. After childbirth, researchers measured two factors: language development and attention issues. 

The study’s first finding was that there is a link between acetaminophen and reduced language development revealed at age 2 — a period of child development known as the “word explosion.” 

“What we found was that the more acetaminophen women had used during their pregnancy, especially if it was during the third trimester … their children had fewer words produced and shorter sentences,” Schantz said. 

Similarly, the study revealed a link between acetaminophen and an increase in attention issues in young children.

 “We specifically found this time related to use of acetaminophen during the second trimester of pregnancy (resulted in) an increase in attention-type problems in children,” Schantz said. 

According to Schantz, these results are significant because they provide insight into how the effects of exposure are impacted by the trimester of pregnancy.

“It seems like depending on what neurodevelopmental outcome you’re looking at, either the second or the third trimester might be the most important,” Schantz said. 

Additionally, these results indicate that this field of science needs to be explored further. 

“There’ll need to be more studies for sure, but I think ours is hopefully moving the needle in the right direction,” Schantz said.

Besides acetaminophen, the IKIDS program researches other factors, such as chemicals found in plastics and personal care products. The idea is to gain a more comprehensive understanding of all the things that affect our prenatal development. 

“We’re starting to move towards an exposome or mixture type analysis, and how does the whole complex mixture affect your development versus individual chemicals and drugs,” Schantz said. 

Looking forward, Schantz says that the program will continue researching this cohort of children and measure how acetaminophen affects the children as they grow up. Beyond that, there are plans to integrate the research with a nationwide program called ECHO. This will greatly diversify the research sample, allowing researchers to make stronger and more precise claims. 

Additionally, the IKIDS program is planning on studying how to reduce the harmful effects of drugs and chemicals with a healthy diet. 

“We’re also interested in the new phase of our research that we’re getting going now, looking at what resilience factors are, like what could mitigate these negative effects,” Schantz said.

While a lot of this research is still in its infancy for now, the results of this study allow pregnant mothers to make better-informed decisions when considering taking Tylenol. 

“If we know that there are some risks associated with the drug, then we can be more cautious in how we use it, to use it just when it’s really needed, and to use just when your doctor is recommending that you use it,” Schantz said. 


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About the Contributor
Aidan Miller-Hisgen
Aidan Miller-Hisgen, Senior Copy Editor
Hi everyone, my name is Aidan Miller-Hisgen and I’m a junior studying Political Science with minors in History and Spanish. I’ve been with The Daily Illini since Fall 2023 working as a news writer before joining the copy team. Outside of school and The DI, I love playing sports, trying out new restaurants and listening to podcasts. Please feel free to reach out to me at any point!
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