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Pregnant women warned paracetamol may harm unborn sons' fertility

Pregnant women warned paracetamol may risk sons' fertility. Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA Archive/Joe Giddens

Pregnant women using paracetamol for prolonged periods may reduce the fertility of their unborn sons, research has found.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh said their study suggests too much paracetamol in pregnancy may reduce testosterone production in male babies.

This study adds to existing evidence that prolonged use of paracetamol in pregnancy may increase the risk of reproductive disorders in male babies.

We would advise that pregnant women should follow current guidance that the painkiller be taken at the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time.

– Dr Rod Mitchell, University of Edinburgh
Pregnant women warned paracetamol may risk sons' fertility. Credit: Bodo Marks/DPA/Press Association Images

They said expectant mothers should follow existing NHS guidelines that the painkiller be taken at the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time.

Research carried out on mice found rodents given three doses of paracetamol a day for a week had a 45% reduction in testosterone compared to a placebo.

Pregnant women warned paracetamol may risk sons' fertility. Credit: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

The hormone, which is produced in the testicles, is crucial for life-long male health. Reduced exposure to testosterone in the womb has been linked to an increased risk of infertility, testicular cancer and undescended testicles.

The study saw scientists test the effect of paracetamol on mice carrying grafts of human testicular tissue, which have been shown to mimic how the developing testes grow and function during pregnancy.

Pregnant women warned paracetamol may risk sons' fertility. Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA Archive

The findings of this study send a clear message - expectant mothers should not prolong paracetamol use during pregnancy, only taking it when necessary and as per current NICE guidelines.

However, the study specifically relates to paracetamol use over at least several days. There are times where one or two doses is needed to treat one-off episodes of fever for example. Fever during pregnancy can be harmful to the developing embryo, with links to a significant increase in the rates of spina bifida and heart malformations, so small doses of paracetamol are sometimes necessary.

My message to expectant mothers is clear - avoid over-use of paracetamol but if you do have a fever, or any other sort of pain where you would normally use paracetamol, seek medical advice.

– Dr Martin Ward-Platt, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

The research is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.