Importance: One in 88 children in the United States is diagnosed as having autism spectrum disorder. Significant interest centers on understanding the environmental factors that may contribute to autism risk.
Objective: To examine whether induced (stimulating uterine contractions prior to the onset of spontaneous labor) and/or augmented (increasing the strength, duration, or frequency of uterine contractions with spontaneous onset of labor) births are associated with increased odds of autism.
Design, setting, and participants: We performed an epidemiological analysis using multivariable logistic regression modeling involving the North Carolina Detailed Birth Record and Education Research databases. The study featured 625,042 live births linked with school records, including more than 5500 children with a documented exceptionality designation for autism.
Exposures: Induced or augmented births.
Main outcomes and measures: Autism as assessed by exceptionality designations in child educational records.
Results: Compared with children born to mothers who received neither labor induction nor augmentation, children born to mothers who were induced and augmented, induced only, or augmented only experienced increased odds of autism after controlling for potential confounders related to socioeconomic status, maternal health, pregnancy-related events and conditions, and birth year. The observed associations between labor induction/augmentation were particularly pronounced in male children.
Conclusions and relevance: Our work suggests that induction/augmentation during childbirth is associated with increased odds of autism diagnosis in childhood. While these results are interesting, further investigation is needed to differentiate among potential explanations of the association including underlying pregnancy conditions requiring the eventual need to induce/augment, the events of labor and delivery associated with induction/augmentation, and the specific treatments and dosing used to induce/augment labor (e.g., exogenous oxytocin and prostaglandins).