The Potential Link between Autism and Caesarean Sections

According to a recent study, there may be a link between autism and children delivered by Caesarean section.  Although the link is still unclear, researchers have stated that surgical delivery can raise the risk of autism disorders by 23 percent.

Researchers at University College Cork analyzed medical statistics in various countries, including the US, Canada, Sweden, and Australia, to see how children born via Caesarean section may be more vulnerable to developing ASD. Professor Louise Kenny, obstetrician and study author, stressed that they are still in the early stages of research, and more studies will need to take place in order to further analyze the potential link. She states, “Parents should be reassured that the overall risk of a child developing ASD is very small and that Caesarean section is largely a very safe procedure, and when medically indicated, it can be lifesaving”.

This new study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, reviewed two existing findings from studies on ASD and C-sections and looked for the links between surgical delivery and ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder). Although there may be a link, the relationships between psychological development and the type of delivery used at birth is very complex.

Eileen Curran, lead author of the study, states, “Given the accelerating rate of Caesarean section globally, this finding warrants further research of a more robust quality using larger populations to adjust for important potential confounders and explore potential causal mechanisms.” In Ireland, for example, over one-third of all babies are delivered via C-section. The World Health Organization recommends that no more than 10 to 15 percent of births should be through this surgical method. With autism disorders being diagnosed more frequently in recent years, scientists are exploring an expansive amount of possible factors. Simultaneously, the rate of births by C-section has grown tremendously over the past few decades. For example, births by C-section have tripled in Britain since 1970.

The new study is a meta-analysis of 25 previously published papers on the links between C-sections and disorders such as autism and ADHD. Some research papers stated a risk of autism for upwards of 40 percent when the child is born by Caesarean section. Although it is still unclear what is driving this association, children born by Caesarean section have different gut flora than those born by normal delivery, which may be a contributing factor in psychological development.

Another theory derives from the fact that C-sections are typically carried out at 37 to 39 weeks, as opposed to the completed 40-week gestation. Curran states, “It is possible that the last few weeks are important for brain development, and therefore being born near rather than at term may lead to an increased risk of psychological problems”. Curran continues, “Given the accelerating rate of Caesarean section globally, this finding warrants further research of a more robust quality, using larger populations to adjust for important potential confounders and explore potential cause mechanisms.”

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