(Health Secrets) Women have been told for many years that painkillers during pregnancy is not a good idea. Now a link has been drawn between the use of mild painkillers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and aspirin in pregnancy, and undescended testicles in baby boys.
A study by the University of Copenhagen has concluded that the risk of cryptorchidism, or undescended testicles, which can cause fertility problems later in life, is dramatically increased by maternal use of painkillers. The increase in risk is related to the volume and frequency of painkiller use, and the part of the pregnancy during which painkillers are taken.
What Are Undescended testicles?
Undescended testicles, or cryptorchidism, is a fairly common condition where baby boys are born with one or both testicles still in their abdomen, where they initially develop, without having descended into their scrotum.
It is thought that around 3-5% of boys are born with this condition. Often the testicles will descend naturally into the scrotum during the first four months of the baby’s life, but if this does not happen, artificial hormones or surgery is usually recommended. This is because undescended testicles present certain risks later in life.
Risks of undescended testicles include:
- Fertility problems caused by low quality sperm
- Increased risk of testicular cancer
- Self esteem and body image issues
What Does the Study Show about Painkillers During Pregnancy?
The study, published in the journal Human Reproduction, assessed about 2,300 pregnant women in Denmark and Finland, and the amount of medication they took during their pregnancies. Using written questionnaires and telephone interviews, they looked at the use of acetaminophen, ibuprofen and aspirin, mainly used to treat headaches and muscle pain.
The results were as follows:
- Taking a painkiller regularly for two weeks increased the risk of cryptorchidism 2.5 times
- Taking two painkillers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen together increased the risk 7 times
- The second trimester was the most critical period, where any painkiller use doubled the risk of cryptorchidism, and taking two painkillers together increased the risk 16 times.
Experiments on rats indicate that the reason for this link may be that these painkillers restrict the availability of testosterone to the male fetus during pregnancy, preventing the full development of the sex organs. As yet no research has been conducted to discover if painkillers present any risks to baby girls, caused by restricted availability to hormones.
Natural Painkillers for Pregnancy
Headaches and muscle aches are very common in pregnancy, but that doesn’t mean automatically reaching for dangerous painkillers. There are plenty of ways to relieve pain naturally, and these should be tried first:
- Rest and relaxation can help to soothe pain. Try yoga, tai chi, or simply an early night.
- A good diet, eating regularly to keep your blood sugar up, and drinking plenty of water can help to avoid headaches.
- Fresh air is nature’s most effective treatment for a headache. Take a brisk walk outside before you consider other remedies.
- Applying heat or cold to the affected area can be a very effective way to relieve pain. Try a bag of frozen peas or a bed buddy that can be heated in the microwave.
- Aromatherapy can be effective at easing pain, and peppermint oil is often the most effective option. Lavender oil should be used with caution in pregnancy.
- Acupuncture, massage and reflexology are safe and effective ways to relieve pain in pregnancy.