Legal Articles

August 22, 2013

Labor induction and autism occurrence may be linked

When a fetus is not delivered by one to two weeks past full gestation or when the need is medically indicated, doctors will deliver babies by inducing or augmenting labor, often with the drug pitocin. This policy is followed in order to improve the successful outcome of the birth and to preserve the health of the mother. However, a new study has found, “Children of women who had labor induced or sped up with drugs were more likely to go on to develop an autism spectrum disorder.”

Induction used to prevent fetal death

The lead researcher stressed that though a link has been established, he and his team have not proven in any way a cause and effect relationship. Their study results should not be used to affect doctors’ decisions to use these methods, as of yet. Simon Gregory, a doctor from Duke Medicine in Durham, N.C., said, “The benefits of induction or augmentation by [obstetricians and gynecologists] far outweigh the risks to maternal and fetal health.”

Other causes of autism

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one in 88 children are born with an autism spectrum disorder. This study is not the first to look at causes of autism; others have found that epilepsy medication and low folic acid levels can also be contributing factors to the development of the condition.

Males more susceptible to autism

To draw their conclusions, the researchers examined information of births in North Carolina that occurred between 1990 and 1998 and compare those births to education information from 1997, 1998, 2007, and 2008. They were able in this way to get enough data to compare 678,000 of the births from the aforementioned period. In that group, 4,285 boys and 1,363 girls were diagnosed with autism. Male births after induced labor had a 14 percent chance of developing autism; after augmentation the risk rose to 16 percent. In comparison, non-induced male births had a 13 percent chance and augmented had a 14 percent chance of developing autism. A smaller correlation was found in females.

Researchers hypothesized that the slight increase of risk could be because “drugs delivered intravenously to the mother can cross the placenta and enter the soon-to-be delivered child.” If doctors stopped inducing or augmenting pregnancy, “about two of every 1,000 autism cases among boys” might be prevented.


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