Bringing a new life into this world is a wonderful feeling for any woman, but only if you deliver a healthy child. This happiness is short-lived for most mothers, as they deliver unhealthy babies.
In the U.S., many babies are born unhealthy. As a matter of fact, 1 in every 33 children born in the United States have a congenital disability. While some defects are minor, others can be serious, requiring lifelong treatment.
But did you know that autism rates are on the rise nationwide? CDC reports that 1 in every 36 children is diagnosed with ASD (autism spectrum disorder). The question is, has autism become more common, or are we getting better at diagnosing it? The jury is still out deciding on it, but there’s probably more to the story.
Precisely what causes autism is still unknown. However, several risk factors during gestation are associated with the condition, and we discuss them in this guide. Let’s check them out to know what you can do to minimize your child’s risk of autism.
#1 Older Parent Age
Many studies suggest that children born to older parents have a 50% higher risk of autism. Quite a few researchers have discovered that this phenomenon is more likely to occur when the father is older.
Early research conducted by Abraham Reichenberg from Mount Sinai School of Medicine reveals that kids born to men above 45 years were 5.75 times more likely to develop autism than those born to men below 30.
While Reichenberg’s study found no link between maternal age and offspring autism, other researchers have found a strong connection. One study reveals that having a younger father won’t reduce the unborn child’s risk of autism if the mother is above 35 years.
#2 Taking Tylenol During Pregnancy
For years, Tylenol has been marketed as safe for use during pregnancy, and that’s why pregnant women use it to relieve pain and fever. But recently, a large body of research has found a connection between prenatal exposure to acetaminophen, i.e., Tylenol, and autism.
Quite shockingly, 40% to 65% of women use Tylenol during pregnancy. You can only imagine the number of children born with autism every year.
Birth cohort studies in Denmark and Spain linked prenatal exposure to Tylenol with ASD. Another study conducted by a small group of the umbilical cord blood of kids later diagnosed with autism found that those with high concentrations of acetaminophen in their prenatal blood supply were at increased risk of autism.
Soon after, these revelations spread like wildfire, and the first Tylenol lawsuit was filed against Walmart by a mother on behalf of her children in 2022. Since then, many parents have jumped on the bandwagon and sued the manufacturer (Johnson & Johnson) and retailers selling acetaminophen.
TorHoerman Law reveals that the lawsuits allege that manufacturers and retailers failed to warn women about the health risks associated with prenatal use of Tylenol.
#3 Gestational Diabetes
Most of you aren’t aware that gestational diabetes has been linked to an array of diseases in unborn children. Besides preeclampsia, preterm birth, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, gestational diabetes is believed to cause autism in children.
A 2021 review revealed that the likelihood of having a child with autism is greater than average if a birth parent has gestational diabetes. Not just gestational, but any form of diabetes can be a risk factor.
Although unavoidable, gestational diabetes can be managed with the help of a doctor. Maintaining healthy levels of blood sugar during pregnancy can minimize the effect of diabetes on the fetus.
#4 Use of Antiepileptic Drugs and Antidepressants
Intake of antiepileptic drugs by the childbearing parent during pregnancy has been shown to increase the risk of ASD. Valproate, sold under the brand name Depakote, can raise the risk by up to 10%.
If you are pregnant while taking these drugs, talk to your neurologist as soon as possible. Ask them to change the medicine or if you can stop taking them to reduce the risk of autism.
Antidepressants, particularly SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), can increase your child’s risk of autism. Recent studies indicate a possible connection between prenatal exposure to SSRIs and the risk of ASD. That’s because these antidepressants increase serotonin levels, which impacts brain development negatively.
Thus, if you’re on any antidepressants, let your gynecologist know, so they can advise you accordingly.
Reducing the Risk of Autism During Pregnancy
As a birth parent, here are a few steps that you can take to reduce your child’s risk of autism:
- Have children between the age of 21 and 35 with a partner who is in the same age range or below 40 years.
- Avoid smoking, drinking, or being in an environment full of toxins.
- Engage in physical activities like exercise or walking daily to maintain a healthy weight throughout pregnancy.
- Avoid consuming antiepileptics or antidepressants. If you cannot avoid them completely, ask your doctor to prescribe a safer alternative.
- Follow all medical advice regarding stress avoidance and bed rest.
Every pregnancy is special and varies from one mother to another.
In regard to genetic factors linked with autism, you can’t do much because they aren’t in your control. That means if you, your partner, or anyone in your family has autism, the possibility of having a child with autism increases, no matter how careful you are.
But when it comes to environmental factors, you’re certainly in control. Simple measures, such as avoiding medications linked with autism, drinking, smoking, and making small changes in your lifestyle, can decrease risks for many conditions besides ASD.