Mothers who need drugs to instill delivery are more likely to have autistic children, a new study has found.
The study, published in the current issue of the JAMA Pediatrics, suggests that several brain changes revealed in autism are likely to occur during pregnancy and delivery. Thus, pregnant women who require drugs to have their labor started or sped up are slightly more likely to have autistic children.
But inducing labor per say doesn’t result in autism, researchers clarified. Instead, the need to induce labor is a marker for an underlying pregnancy problem that causes autism, they added.
“It’s possible that infants destined to develop autism are less likely to send out the correct biochemical signals for normal progression of labor,” Tara Wenger, a pediatric genetics fellow at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who wasn’t involved in the new study, said.
For the purpose of the study, researchers at the Duke Institute of Molecular Physiology looked at birth records of 625,042 North Carolina births and matched them with their respective school records.
While the school records did provide information on autism, it didn’t specify the severity of autism.
As many as 170,000 births required inducing of labor either by application of a hormone gel to the cervix or by giving an intravenous shot of oxytocin, an artificial version of a natural hormone involved in labor.
The study showed that 13 out of every 1,000 boys born, and 4 out of every 1,000 girls, developed autism.
However, the risk of developing autism was a third higher in boys born to mothers who needed drugs to induce labor as compared to girls.
Overall, inducing of labor was linked to 13 percent higher risk of having an autistic child, compared to children born to mothers who din’t require artificial support.
Though the researchers have suggested the link between autism and inducing labor, more research is called for putting it into practical use.
“We don’t want mothers to say, ‘Under no circumstances do I want to be induced because I don’t want a kid with autism’. That would be plain wrong,” study’s lead researcher, Prof Simon Gregory, of Duke University said.
“We’ve found an association and more research is needed. This allows us to focus on the factors around birth that may affect autism and how it develops.”