In the ongoing mission to pinpoint the causes of autism, researchers from the University of Michigan have identified a link between pregnant women who take measures to speed up labor and a higher risk of autism. Although this research does not indicate a causal relationship between induced labor and autism, it does contribute to the existing body of research regarding possible causes of autism spectrum disorders.

The researchers analyzed records from 625,000 births over the course of an eight-year period from the state of North Carolina. They discovered that inducing or augmenting labor was associated with a 35% higher risk of autism in male children, compared with labor that did not receive such treatment.

Only a small risk was registered for girls whose mothers induced (not augmented) labor.

More research will be needed to assess whether this is, in fact, a cause of autism spectrum disorders or simply a risk factor. In either case, this study indicates that more research is required in order to conclusively link autism to induced or augmented labor.

The rate of autism risk found in this study resembles that of other known risk factors for autism like delivering a baby past its due date or high blood pressure in the mother.

“The scientific community has long looked for environmental contributors to the rising rates of autism in the United States. This study provides preliminary evidence of an association between autism and labor induction/augmentation, especially among male children,” said senior author Marie Lynn Miranda, dean of the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment.

This study is published in JAMA Pediatrics.

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