Early findings reveal good news in the largest-ever study of whether inducing or augmenting labor increases a child’s risk for developing autism — researchers have found no increased risk associated with the practice, which involves a dose of synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin).
The findings of the study, conducted by researchers at the University of Utah, were presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Maternal and Fetal Medicine in San Diego.
“Induction or augmentation of labor is an important strategy to minimize risk to mother and baby in some situations,” said study presenter Erin Clark, M.D. “The study reassures both patients and physicians that induction or augmentation of labor does not appear to be associated with autism spectrum disorder risk.”
Oxytocin plays a strong role in many social behaviors, and it is well-known that some individuals with autism have very low levels of this hormone. The concern that inducing labor might increase autism risk comes from the idea that an “overload” of oxytocin during early brain development could reduce the number of oxytocin receptors in the brain.
Previous research appeared to find a connection between the use of Pitocin and a modest increase in autism rates. But experts warned that this link could be related to other factors associated with the need to induce or augment labor.
For the current study, researchers evaluated data taken from the Utah Registry of Autism and Developmental Disabilities and state birth certificates. They compared the birth histories of 2,547 children with autism to 166,283 children without autism.
The findings showed that autism rates were the same (1.3 percent) for children who were born by induction and/or augmentation as they were for those who were not, after adjusting for factors such as maternal health and pregnancy-related conditions and events.
“While some caution is needed before study results undergo rigorous pre-publication review, it’s reassuring to see these findings from a very large population study,” said developmental pediatrician Paul Wang, M.D.,head of medical research at Autism Speaks.
“A key to this study was that the investigators controlled for maternal health and pregnancy complications, which we know are associated with increased risk for autism,” he said. Wang was not involved in the study.
It is estimated that about one in 68 children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) according to the latest findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disorder is characterized by social and communication difficulties as well as repetitive behaviors.
Source: Autism Speaks