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Can inducing labor cause autism?

A new study out today in the journal JAMA Pediatrics says that induced labor might be the reason for the spike in autism over the last couple of decades.

Autism is the most pervasive childhood disease today, with one child born every 20 minutes who will fall into the autism spectrum, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC. It is more prevalent than Down Syndrome, diabetes and cancer combined.

Duke University and the University of Michigan conducted the study. Researchers looked at mothers whose births were induced or hurried with the drug Pitocin and found that there may be a connection between induction and children born with autism, or ASD.

Pitocin is a synthetic form of oxytocin, a naturally occurring hormone that causes feelings of warmth and relationship toward others.

Pitocin, made from the pituitary glands of cattle, is used to induce or speed up labor. Its use has increased in the last two decades, according to the CDC, as has the diagnosis of autism.

That correlation may have prompted the study.

Read the study.

Autism spectrum disorder is characterized by difficulties in social interaction and by repetitive behaviors, according to AutismSpeaks.org.

Mary Ueland, a Missouri-based midwife and owner of a birth and wellness center, told WND that as a midwife who follows research closely, she finds it “concerning that as a society we have made pharmaceutical induction the norm, even for women with no known complications.”

“We have not studied the effects of Pitocin imprinting an infant’s brain,” she said.

She poses the question: “Could it be that bombarding an infant’s oxytocin receptors with far larger than normal amounts of synthetic oxytocin could destroy or ruin their oxytocin receptors?”

Earlier studies indicated that there was a connection between Pitocin and adverse effects on neonatal outcomes, such as lower Apgar scores, and time spent in neonatal intensive care units.

Other studies examined a possible connection between vaccines and autism.

Dr. Eric Hollander, chairman of psychiatry and director of the Seaver and New York Autism Center of Excellence at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, suggested that “a possible imbalance of blood levels of oxytocin may be associated with certain forms of ASDs.

“I think that this is an important area for future development to understand the underlying root cause of ASDs and develop treatments to help manage symptoms,” he said.

Dr. C. Sue Carter conducted a study that confirmed a link between oxytocin and ASDs.

She said that the oxytocin receptor chemicals (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms-SNP’s) may be compromised during Pitocin induction and that further research was warranted. Her work has resulted in studies examining whether the use of oxytocin will benefit patients with ASDs.

“Patterns of oxytocin, even in [the] blood of nonautistic persons, are not well described. We don’t understand the developmental effects of oxytocin very well, and it is possible that the most important effects of oxytocin on ASDs occur in the prenatal or early postnatal period,” Carter explained.

Both Hollander and Carter have studied the possibility that excess oxytocin, given intravenously during birth via Pitocin, might be a potential cause of ASDs.

“In some individuals whose oxytocin system could be genetically vulnerable, a strong environmental early hit while the brain is still developing could down-regulate the oxytocin system, leading to developmental problems. But this is only a hypothesis that has been observed by association,” Hollander commented.

Carter said the biggest hurdle in studies are finding people who have not been exposed to Pitocin, because it is given so frequently. The last two decades have seen such an increase, that perhaps examining 30- and 40-year-olds would offer some clues.

The obvious coincidence of the massive increase in Pitocin use, coupled with the massive increase in Autism diagnoses is suspect. In 1980, one child in 5,000 had autism. In 1990, one child in 1,000 was diagnosable. In 2000, 1 in 500; 2004, one in 166; in 2007, one in 150; and in 2010, one in 110 children had autism. Today, one in 70 boys are ASD. The numbers are mind boggling, to the point of epidemic, according to the CDC.

Carter said it’s often assumed that Pitocin does not reach the infant in amounts that would directly affect it.

“Increasing amounts of Pitocin are being given in some hospitals, though,” she said. “In our most recent research in animals, a little extra Ooxytocin given directly to newborns facilitated certain forms of social behavior, but larger amounts were disruptive.”

Michelle Huffman, mother of two, said she was forced to use Pitocin in both of her births, “and I begged not to.”

“Of course I worried about the effect on my babies, but they told me that the Pitocin would not even get through to the babies in traceable amounts,” she said.

Most mothers and birth professionals agree that Pitocin makes the contractions very intense, sometimes too much so. Hospital births may use Pitocin to time the births so that they are paced with a doctor’s presence.

Other birth professionals, like midwives, tend to reject Pitocin use as unnatural and embrace other birth facilitating measures such as walking, massage and positioning, sometimes in a warm bath or pool.

Midwifery today cites the work of Dr. Michel Odent, founder of the Primal Health Research Center in London.

He says that “autistic children show alterations in the oxytocin system.”

The period of birth, he says, causes a natural but dramatic reorganization of central oxytocin binding. He speculates that artificial induction of labor could create a situation in which that reorganization is dangerously interrupted.

Other factors may be at play. Neurologist Lawrence Lavine says that today’s obstetrical practices might be to blame for some of the problems, while use of Pitocin and epidurals might represent the structural factors leading to ASD.

As the author of “A Natural Guide to Autism,” Stephanie Marohn said the use of Pitocin elicits contractions so hard, it is like “using the child’s head as a battering ram to force the pelvis to reshape to accommodate it.”

Marohn says it is natural then that the compressions compromise the cranial nerves and nervous system, resulting in cranial compression.

The research leaves room for studies of other possible problems with induction.

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