Can Stress During Pregnancy Lead to Autism?

Can Stress During Pregnancy Lead to Autism

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Pregnancy is the most important phase in a woman’s life. Every expecting mother wishes her child to have a healthy body and a sound mind. While a mother may find herself equipped to nurture a child even after birth for any physical shortcoming or frailty, the developmental disorders in babies can prove to be rather difficult for any new mother to handle. This is why mothers take a lot of care during pregnancies to avoid the risk of such disorders. One such developmental disorder which is a cause of concern among most parents is Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

There is a huge amount of research that is being conducted in the field of autism spectrum disorders. These researches are being done in order to find the causes, prevention methods as well as to check the effectiveness of traditional preventive methods like the use of folic acid (1). However, the research regarding effects of folic acid remains inconclusive and might require further studies. In the meantime, a new research now claims that stress during pregnancy can also lead to autism spectrum disorder (2).

Yes, you’ve heard that right. You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking out loud right now about all the developmental diseases associated with pregnancy, like Down syndrome. And, this was one feather no one really wished to be added to the pregnancy-related disorders cap!

What The Research Says

What The Research Says

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The researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine conducted an observation of a stress-sensitive gene variation and stress exposure during pregnancy among two groups of mothers with autistic children (3). The mothers were surveyed regarding stress factors during pregnancy like losing a job, moving out of homes or going through a divorce. A blood test was then conducted to find the variation of the stress-sensitive gene which regulates the neurotransmitter serotonin in the nervous system. Wherever this gene variation was present, the availability of serotonin was found to be altered, resulting in an increased reaction to stress.

In both groups, the mothers of autistic children, who carried the stress-sensitive gene variation, reported having experienced more stress at the end of the second trimester and the start of the third trimester of their pregnancy. Comparatively, mothers who did not carry the stress-sensitive gene variation reported less amount of stress during their pregnancy. This was a significant breakthrough result where stress during pregnancy was found to be a major contributor to a developmental disease, or at least seemed to.

Points To Remember

Points To Remember

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So, does this mean that stress can really cause autistic spectrum disorder? Well, while the results of the study do seem to suggest that to a large extent, there are a few points that need to be remembered while analyzing those results. Firstly, this study was purely observational and requires further confirmations in the future. Secondly, the stress factors taken into consideration were actually huge and not the regular ones like stressing about diet or weight gain during pregnancy.

However, the researchers involved were optimistic that it was a first step towards helping them in actually recognizing women with greater risk of having a baby with autism if they were exposed to stress.

What You Can Do?

What You Can Do

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While researchers are doing their bit to reduce the risk of developmental diseases, here are a few tips of our own –

  1. Stress in any form is harmful to you as well as your baby. So, irrespective of the degree of harm that it can cause, try to keep yourself as relaxed and cheerful as possible.
  1. Educate yourself and increase your awareness about things that could possibly cause such diseases, like a certain diet, medication, or any allergy, apart from lifestyle stressors.
  1. When in doubt, always seek your doctor’s help. Discuss any concerns that you may have with your doctor. She may be the best person to guide you and put to rest all those nagging questions in your mind.

Your baby may or may not be at any health risk, either mental or physical. However, let not the fear of any disease get to your mind and spoil your pregnancy journey. So keep your sunny side up and smile for your baby!

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