C-sections and autism rates in children may be linked, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid the procedure
- A study published in August found that C-section births were associated with a 33% higher risk of autism.
- The study authors emphasized that the results only suggest an association, not necessarily a cause.
- It’s possible that the risk factors that lead a woman to get a C-section could contribute to autism risks.
Medical professionals still haven’t pinpointed a single cause for autism spectrum disorder, but a new study suggests that babies born by C-section may be at a higher risk of developing the condition.
A study published in August in JAMA Open Network found that C-section births were associated with a 33% higher risk of autism and a 17% higher risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, compared with babies delivered vaginally. To obtain their results, the researchers looked at studies covering more than 20 million deliveries worldwide, dating back to 1999.
C-sections were associated with a 33% higher risk of autism
Somewhere between 1 in 40 and 1 in 50 children in the U.S. has autism, according to the most recent research.
This wasn’t the first study to suggest a connection between C-sections and autism. Still, experts, and the authors themselves, were quick to note that these findings just suggest an association, and can’t yet conclude that one delivery method over another has a higher autism risk in children.
“We do not have any evidence, including from this study, that C-sections cause autism,” said Thomas Frazier, a psychologist and chief science officer of advocacy group Autism Speaks. “What these researchers found was a correlation, not a cause.”
Autism spectrum disorder is a condition related to the brain’s development and can affect how a person sees the world and interacts with people in it. There is no cure and no definitive medical test to diagnose autism, which makes tracking rates of the condition particularly challenging.
Somewhere between 1 in 40 and 1 in 50 children in the U.S. has autism, according to the most recent research. Some reports appear to suggest that autism is on the rise, but this could be due to more awareness around the condition and earlier diagnoses.
Health risks that lead to C-sections could be a factor
It’s possible that the health issues faced by a mother or baby, which could lead to the need for a C-section, may overlap with risks associated with autism, said Kristen Lyall, a researcher at AJ Drexel Autism Institute, an organization that works to improve the quality of life for people living with autism.
That includes conditions like gestational hypertension and gestational diabetes, which could impact a fetus’ brain development. Neonatal complications, including preterm birth, low birth weight, and factors related to hypoxia, also come into play.
“Complications, in general, lead to a suboptimal fetal environment and impact common mechanisms influencing fetal development,” Lyall said.
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