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Preventing ADHD Begins During Pregnancy

Katlyn Joy | 4, September 2014


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ADHD, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, is one of the most common neuro-developmental disorders in America. It is characterized by difficulty paying attention, impulsive actions and being overly active.

New Studies and New Risks for ADHD Found


A study published last month in Molecular Psychiatry looked at the use of antidepressants during pregnancy and whether it increased the cases of ADHD and autism. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, funded by the US National Institute for Mental Health Research. Researchers looked at 1377 children with autism, 2243 children with ADHD and 9653 children without either condition. Next researchers looked at whether mothers had taken antidepressants at any point in their lives, in the three months prior to conception or at any time in their pregnancies.

The researchers concluded from the data that while antidepressant use did not appear to contribute to autism, antidepressant use in pregnancy did seem to pose a risk of ADHD for offspring. The risk was modest and researchers caution that patients should be in close consultation with physicians regarding their depression and treatment during pregnancy.


Also commonly referred to as Tylenol, this medication has long thought to be one of the safest medications for pregnant women. A study published in JAMA, or the Journal of the American Medical Association, in February 2014, stirred up a great deal of conversation and debate when it revealed its results. Researchers looked at 64,000 women and followed up until their babies reached early childhood. Of the women studied, over half took acetaminophen. Those who took Tylenol while pregnant had a 13 percent increase in ADHD behaviors by age 7 in their children. Of those with symptoms, 30 percent required medication. Another startling discovery was that the longer into pregnancy the medication was taken and the longer the duration, the higher the risk.

ADHD Risk Factors


This is the most accepted and researched factors behind ADHD. While perhaps only 5 percent of the population has ADHD, 25 percent of close relatives of children with ADHD also have the condition. Twin studies have also shown a very strong genetic link for ADHD. At least a third of parents who had ADHD as youths, have children with the disorder.

Low birth weight.

One likely factor in ADHD is being born at low birth weight. In 2002, a study was published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics establishing a strong link between low birth weight and the incidence of ADHD. The researchers looked at 252 ADHD cases and 231 non-ADHD cases and found that low birth weight was a factor. Those in the ADHD were three times as likely to have been born at low birth weight than their non-ADHD cohorts. For reference, low birth weight is under 5 pounds, 8 ounces. Most premature babies are born at low birth weight, so prematurity is also considered a risk factor.

Drinking and smoking During Pregnancy.

We know drinking in pregnancy is an absolute no-no, and the myriad negative effects of smoking cigarettes are common knowledge. However, it is also now a given that drinking and smoking while pregnant carry significant risk to cause ADHD in the offspring.

What Doesn't Cause ADHD

According to the CDC, the following do not cause attention problems or hyperactivity in children, no matter what you've heard.

  • Eating sugary foods.
  • Watching too much television.
  • Poor parenting.
  • Poverty.
  • Food additives.

What This Means for You

Despite studies, if your doctor finds benefits outweigh risks in using antidepressants or acetaminophen you should listen. Even the researchers advise you follow your doctor's orders in regards to medications, as sometimes they will prevent more serious harm to fetuses.

Of course, poor lifestyle choices have no part in a pregnant woman's life, so abstain from drinking or smoking. Prematurity and low birth weight generally are not preventable by mothers, but some choices can impact the likelihood of babies being born too early or too small. Taking recreational or hard drugs are associated with both conditions. Poor health is always a risk for unborn babies, so eat healthy, stay at a healthy weight, keep your stress at bay through yoga, meditation and other relaxation measures.

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