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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Back-to-Back Pregnancies May Increase Autism Risk

Researchers Say Closely Timed Pregnancies May Deplete Mothers of Key Nutrients, Such as Folate
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No Consensus on How Closely Spaced Pregnancies Affect Autism Risk

Still many questions remain, including exactly how closely spaced pregnancies may affect autism risk, Bearman says.

 “It could be a biological factor, such as maternal depletion of nutrients like folate, or another process that hasn’t been described or discovered yet,” Bearman says. “If the mechanism is depletion of nutrients like folate, then women can make sure to take supplements of it, and if it is something else, it also may be readily modifiable.”

It also could just be that parents with closely spaced kids are more attuned to normal child development, he says. “Parents who have had closely spaced children are more aware of developmental dynamics and more likely to seek help if the child is not developing on the right trajectory,” he says. 

“Watch the science,” he says. “This is the first study, but there is a lot more work to be done.”         

Autism Community Reacts

The new findings are “significant and intriguing,” says Andy Shih, PhD, vice president of scientific affairs at Autism Speaks. “It is not a simple picture."

“There has been a lot of attention on environmental postnatal factors of autism, but this study suggests that when you have children too closely together, you may not be providing an optimal womb environment,” Shih says.

Other studies have shown that pregnancy complications, low-birth-weight babies, and premature births may also be associated with increased risk for autism, he says.

“The real exciting aspect is the focus on prenatal risk factors, and it points to venues of new research to identify what is happening in shorter IPIs as opposed to longer ones,” he says. “We need a lot more follow-up to make sure we are seeing something that is robust and real."

“If you are worried or concerned, work with your obstetrician/gynecologist on your childbirth and reproductive strategy,” he says. “As time progresses, we’ll soon know if this is something to think about in regard to family planning.”

Dan Khoury, MD, chief of the section of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, urges people to keep the new findings in perspective.

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