For years there have been the two camps of mamas-to-be: Those who want a completely natural birth, free of all drugs, and those who can't get an epidural fast enough. Now French researchers who've studied pregnant mice are suggesting that there is a link between women getting an epidural during childbirth and their children developing autism.
The reason being that when you're given an epidural, it is blocking your body's natural release of oxytocin—which helps your uterus contract; is considered the love hormone because it helps you bond with your baby post-birth; and serves as a diuretic, reducing chloride levels. According to the Independent, chloride ions are kept deliberately high in the neurons of the fetus while developing in the womb. But in a natural birth the mother's production of oxytocin lowers the chloride levels quickly during labor. In the pregnant mice studied, when the oxytocin was blocked similarly to what an epidural does, chloride ions continue to remain high after birth, leading to developmental brain disorders and autism.
However, the study doesn't answer what happens when synthetic oxtytocin, called pitocin, is introduced into the system. Pitocin is usually given to a woman to help induce labor, either because she is past her due date or the doctor thinks the labor needs to be sped up in order to have a safer delivery.
Another recent study sings the praises of inducing a pregnancy (which is when a doctor gives you medicine like pitocin, or other drugs, to artificially start or speed up your contractions) as a major way to stave off the need for a C-section. Though this is contrary to a British study from two years ago that said the use of pitocin doesn't lower the risk of a Cesarean section. Their findings stated that the use of pitocin sped up labor by about two hours, but that it did not lessen the need for a C-section or increase the number of unassisted births.
Meanwhile, an anxiety-inducing study was also recently published in the journal, JAMA Pediatrics, that says inducing a pregnancy can increase a child's chance of having autism. Researchers say the method used to kick-start the labor process likely doesn't cause the autism, but it comes from a larger underlying problem with the pregnancy. Studies have found that children are at higher risk for autism if they are born early or very small; if they are in medical distress during delivery; if they have older mothers or fathers; or if they are born less than a year after an older sibling. Autism risk also goes up if a mother has diabetes or high blood pressure; is obese; is exposed to significant air pollution during pregnancy; had low levels of folic acid; or makes antibodies toxic to the fetal brain.
Image of woman with newborn courtesy of Shutterstock.