During my first pregnancy, I was admittedly surprised when my doctor handed me a list of things to avoid while pregnant. The list included things like deli meats, fish and a long list of medications, like I had suddenly become dangerously delicate. The one thing I was told I could take was Tylenol, which I did — and often — due to having a baby who was sitting on my sciatic nerve while I was also working a very physical job. So imagine my surprise when I was made aware that the FDA is now warning women about certain risks that might be associated with taking Tylenol while pregnant.
According to a new study, women who take acetaminophen while pregnant are more likely to have a child with hyperactivity. Acetaminophen is the main ingredient in Tylenol but can also be found in many pain relievers, fever reducers and cold and allergy medication. Basically it’s everywhere.
In the past, the FDA has reviewed studies that correlate hyperactivity in children and the use of acetaminophen while pregnant, but due to certain limitations of these studies, they were prevented from “drawing reliable conclusions.” This new study seems to see a stronger link between the two but still isn’t completely conclusive. Basically there’s no definitive proof of acetaminophen causing hyperactivity, but to prevent itself from having any liability in the event that it does, the FDA is going to cover its ass while also terrifying every woman who has ever popped a Tylenol while pregnant.
While reading this information, I couldn’t help but suddenly become hyperaware of my two toddlers turning my house into a disaster zone behind me. Was their behavior indicative of hyperactivity? Was their behavior normal for a couple of toddler boys, or were they suffering from a behavioral disorder that manifested itself within them because I “selfishly” subjected them to a few Tylenols while they were in utero? According to their doctors, they’re both happy, healthy and thriving, but suddenly I’m worried about an underlying condition that might be disguising itself in the form of, well, toddlers.
Mothers are already being warned about the effects of GMOs and pesticides, too much screen time, showing them too much affection but also too little affection and too much discipline but also not enough of it, among many, many other things, and now we’ve got to add taking a medication we were told was safe while we were pregnant to that list? Enough already!
Can we just stop trying to scare pregnant women and mothers? I get that certain precautions should always be taken in pretty much every area of life, pregnant or not, but I feel like we’ve crossed the line that lies between common sense and paranoia.
Yes, we do need to be aware of the things that could pose a risk to pregnancy, but I feel it can be done without using scary headlines to grab readers’ attention. The study didn’t take into account other important factors of acetaminophen use, like dosage, frequency of use or the reason for its use in the first place, all of which are undoubtedly important. Even the researchers themselves have admitted that further studies are required to develop a definitive conclusion.
If these studies are meant to bring about awareness rather than paranoia, they’re going to also need to develop a different strategy in doing so — maybe one that doesn’t make pregnant women want to flush a very common and helpful drug down their toilets before they know all the facts. Perhaps we could focus some of these studies on developing a plan for paid pregnancy leave, because it seems like pregnant women are constantly made out to be delicate little flowers who will most definitely wilt when exposed to the elements of deli meats and global warming and Donald Trump’s ever-flapping mouth.
I don’t need yet another negative study to add to my parental worries. I already lose enough sleep every single night worrying about my boys. Instead of counting sheep, I’m counting the number of chicken nuggets I fed them instead of vegetables, or the number of times I yelled at them instead of kissing their sweet little cheeks. I’m counting the amount of money I’ll have to spend on groceries and doctor’s visits and their college education. I’m counting how many days they have left until they start school or drive or graduate. And now, I’m unfortunately counting how many times I subjected them to acetaminophen while I was pregnant.
Even though they seem to be healthy right now, I’ll always have the nauseating thought that I may have somehow harmed them when I was pregnant lurking in the back of my mind. I did everything I thought was right, but I’m still told by studies like the one that is now saying that acetaminophen is harmful during pregnancy that doing everything right still might not be enough.
Of course women need to take certain precautions while pregnant, but ultimately the health of our babies isn’t completely in our control. We can do everything right, and our babies might still be born with some sort of disability. Instead of adding to the list of things we can’t do, we need to be telling women about everything they can do to increase their chances of a complication-free pregnancy. Instead of telling them about everything that’s bad for them, we need to be talking more about what’s good for them. And instead of constantly subjecting women to scare tactics, we need to be offering them all the support they can get.
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