On August 12th, JAMA Pediatrics published an article suggesting there may be a link between women whose labor is induced or augmented having a higher incidence of children with autism. However, researchers have been very quick to state that there is more research and studies needed to make any claims.
When a woman has her labor induced, she is given medication to start contractions and the labor process. Augmentation refers to medication given to enhance or maintain contractions that are not of adequate quality or frequency. It is critical to note that either intervention is often used to prevent stillbirth, infection of mom and/or baby, and a potentially critically ill mom that could give birth to a critically ill baby.
A study of more than 625,000 live births showed that children of mothers who received labor augmentation and induction had 23% increased odds of having autism than children whose mothers did not undergo induced or augmented labor. Many other factors are being evaluated that may be contributing factors.
Environmental factors, genetic predisposition and events occurring during pregnancy may have an impact on children having autism. It may be that these circumstances contribute to the necessity of induction and/or augmentation, not the other way around.
Lead author Simon G. Gregory, PhD, associate professor at the Duke Institute of Molecular Physiology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, states, "Our results are not sufficient to suggest altering the standard of care regarding induction or augmentation; our results do suggest that additional research is warranted. We are being very, very careful to not say that we've established cause and effect. It's the maternal health and the health of the baby in utero and the circumstances that required the physician to say the birth should be induced or augmented — or it could be the augmentation process itself," added Dr. Gregory.
Until more studies and research are done, it is best to discuss induction and augmentation with your health care provider if you have questions or concerns. As Dr. Gregory says, “Negative consequences of not inducing can far outweigh those risks."