When I saw the latest autism headlines, I was reminded of something I saw published a few years ago.
Back in 2013, researchers questioned if labor induction could raise the risk of autism. Some reports, which spread like wild fire, said yes, a link existed. I got to share my thoughts about that those findings on air one night. I’ve not been asked to speak about the latest news, but I wasn’t shocked to see some of the information didn’t add up.
In the first study, which tracked nearly 390,000 children born in Canadian hospitals between 2000 and 2014, 1.5% of those exposed to epidural during birth were diagnosed later with autism spectrum disorder, the data showed.
Another news report shared that, “Those exposed to epidural during birth have about 5% increased risk for autism…” but then stated that, "Parents can be reassured that there is no link between using epidurals and autism spectrum disorder and, based on current evidence, the risk of autism spectrum disorder does not need to be factored into the decision on whether or not to use epidurals during labor…"
But wait, 1.5% of those exposed did receive an ASD diagnosis.
And a 5% increased risk is not an ideal 0%.
So, what can mothers today do?
If I could give my thoughts today on this recent news, I’d offer similar responses like the ones I shared after my interview in 2013.
Question: Should pregnant women be concerned (about the results of this study)?
Me: If the reason to use an epidural is due to an emergency to protect the mother or her child, for her life, or for the life of her baby, having that medical intervention may be necessary.
Now, if the reason for adding an epidural to the birth plan is elective, like for the doctor’s convenience, then, yes, I would think pregnant women should be concerned. The concern would not about the study or about autism though. It would be a concern for her personal needs and that they are not a priority for their provider.
As autism parents have done for so long, pregnant women must also arm themselves with as much information as they can. They need to do that before they step foot into a doctor’s office. Their input is just as important, if not more, than what the doctors have been trained to say. If a woman needs intervention, she should ask early what her options are and what the risks are. I’d encourage expectant moms to be thorough with their research and to read as much as they can throughout their pregnancies. She should read about the procedure and the drugs that might be administered—including the ones that are clearly not recommended for pregnant women but are often used to induce labor or ease labor pains.
A good deal of information is available to women when they know where to start looking. One helpful resource is Jennifer Margulis’ book, The Business of Baby. Lastly, I’d recommend hiring a doula who can provide the pregnant woman with continuous physical, emotional and informational support during her pregnancy and with the birth.
Question: What, if any, advice do you have for parents out there who have children with autism and for moms may be considering epidurals?
Me: How long can I talk? Seriously. I could talk for a long time about that! For the first part of that question I think parents need to continue to be more vocal about what happened to our children. We need to keep talking about it, about autism and about that the autism rates are still rising.
Secondly, what would I say to moms whose labor included epidurals? Unfortunately, you can’t go back in time to change what happened. But you can be proactive now!
Look for therapy and for appropriate intervention.
Get started as soon as possible, and stick with it.
Since it can be very overwhelming, find a support group to guide you. Over time, as you read, research and discover that procedures and medical interventions you opted for. They may have a link to autism. Read, research, ask questions, and do it all over again until you have a good understanding of what happened and why. If the side effects can be reversed, try to do just that. Autism is medical. It can be treated. Happily, for some, an autism diagnosis can also be reversed.
Question: In your circles, are people talking about this study?
Me: When these “studies” come out, I can’t help but wonder what might be covered up in other autism news. And, come on, media! It’s not the 1950s. Stop blaming mom or mom’s choices for autism. If you want to do something that’ll make everyone want to read and share your stories, get someone to investigate the overinflated vaccine schedule and how it’s messed up so many children’s health. I guarantee that’ll make front page news.
Question: Do you think more studies need to be done?
Me: Well, I’d prefer more action be done than studies. People need help now. Sure, it would be nice to have more definitive answers as to the causes of autism, but look at what the other studies have said causes autism: old dads, moms with big boobs, college-educated parents, living near a freeway, prenatal ultrasound, Tylenol use, jaundice, larger head size and watching TV. Enough already! Families working through an autism diagnosis are in crisis. They need support. Why not take some of those research dollars and put them into intervention programs and biomedical treatment options? Studies cause speculation and delays. Action can help people right now.
Right now, we’re facing a different crisis – vaccinate or else. Vaccinate, or lose your job. Vaccinate, or lose your benefits. Vaccinate, or lose your spot at school. Almost all of my newsfeed is a COVID vaccine-related story, so I was surprised to find some autism news in the mix. I’ll keep my eye on the latest autism-epidural information, though, because something interesting always seems to happen after that sort of information comes out. Some of it’s good news, like a successful treatment option becomes available. Sometimes the news is bad, like when I went to look for that 2013 autism and labor induction story.
Three years after autism was linked to labor induction, news reports said that it wasn’t. How confusing for the young parents-to-be! How unfortunate that we can’t believe everything that Science wants us to believe in a particular moment.
Science is “…the search for knowledge. It is using that knowledge to solve problems.” With that, I will always ask parents to read everything they can about the topic they’re researching. It may be mind numbing at times, but dig deeper to look also at who’s funding the research and to look at who benefits from the results. Use that knowledge gained while reading and asking questions! Besides asking a parent to be careful about who they put their faith in, I tell them to always trust their instinct. It’s there to protect them. More importantly, it’s there to help them protect their babies, too.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.