Pregnant women who take common painkillers might be putting the fertility of their daughters and even their granddaughters at risk, a new study says.
pregnant woman taking a pill
Credit: Susan Chiang/Getty Images

Women who take common painkillers during pregnancy could be putting the fertility of their unborn daughters at risk, according to a new study from the University of Edinburgh.

Paracetamol—the most widely-used painkiller in the world for everything from headaches to arthritis—has traditionally been known as the only pain reliever safe for moms-to-be. But this new study has found that among the mothers who took the medicine, daughters had fewer eggs than those who had not been exposed. Even more alarming: In addition to affecting a mother's immediate offspring, the medicines also appeared to have an impact on subsequent generations.

The new research, which was performed on rats, found mothers given paracetamol had daughters—and granddaughters!—with smaller ovaries, and they also gave birth to fewer babies. And males were affected too, having fewer cells at birth that give rise to sperm later in life, though their fertility recovered to normal levels by the time they matured into adults.

Researchers are now urging pregnant women to think twice before taking paracetamol, and said that if the tablets are taken, they should be used in the lowest possible dose.

Still, study co-author Professor Richard Sharpe said it's important to remember that this research was conducted in rats, not humans. "However, there are many similarities between the two reproductive systems," he added. "We now need to understand how these drugs affect a baby's reproductive development in the womb so that we can further understand their full effect."

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and a mom. Check out her website for more, and follow her on Twitter at @holleewoodworld.