The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, found:
- Women whose labor was induced were 13% more likely to have a child later diagnosed with autism.
- Women whose labor was sped up were 16% more likely to have an autistic child.
- Women whose labor was both induced and augmented were 27% more likely to have an autistic child.
The link was especially pronounced in boys. There was no increase in autism risk among women who had C-sections.
Researchers factored in potential confounders related to socioeconomic status, maternal health, pregnancy-related events and conditions, and birth year.
This was not the first study to find a link between autism and induced labor, but this is the largest one to date. In the study, researchers examined eight years of North Carolina birth records and matched 625,042 births with public school data from the late 1990s through 2008.
The researchers concluded:
Our work suggests that induction/augmentation during childbirth is associated with increased odds of autism diagnosis in childhood. While these results are interesting, further investigation is needed to differentiate among potential explanations of the association including underlying pregnancy conditions requiring the eventual need to induce/augment, the events of labor and delivery associated with induction/augmentation, and the specific treatments and dosing used to induce/augment labor (eg, exogenous oxytocin and prostaglandins).
Pitocin is a synthetic form of oxytocin, a naturally occurring hormone that causes feelings of warmth and relationship toward others. The drug is made from the pituitary glands of cattle and it is increasingly used to induce or speed up labor. The CDC says that its use has increased in the last two decades, as has the diagnosis of autism.
Pitocin has been linked to other problems in newborns. Earlier this year, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists announced that Pitocin may be more dangerous for infants than previously believed, and that its use was linked to lower APGAR scores and a higher likelihood of being admitted to NICU. It is known to also increase odds of fetal distress, uterine rupture, and many other complications.
For more information about how to avoid Pitocin and natural alternatives to induce labor, see:
Pregnant women should discuss the use of Pitocin and other measures to induce or augment labor with their midwives and doctors, and be sure to make their wishes known.
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