Closely Spaced Pregnancies Boost Autism Risk

New research shows children conceived in quick succession could be in danger of developing autism.

A large new study of California children suggests a culprit in rising rates of autism could be the amount of time that passes between pregnancies. Writing in yesterday’s online issue of Pediatrics, researchers said closely spaced pregnancies were associated with a higher risk of autism.

In her study of more than 660,000 second-born children from 1992 to 2002, lead author Keely Cheslack-Postava, PhD, found that second-born children’s risk of developing autism was much higher when fewer than 36 months lapsed between pregnancies.

Children who were conceived less than 1 year after a sibling was born were 3 times more likely to have autism. Those conceived within 2 years of the first child’s birth were twice as likely to be diagnosed with the condition.

The mechanisms behind the link remain unclear; however, they do underscore a critical need for high quality prenatal care among women whose first pregnancy is closely followed by a second. Researchers said one cause might be the depletion of nutrients—such as iron and folate—that occurs when pregnancies are closely spaced.

Pharmacists who counsel expectant mothers can help minimize nutrient depletion by assisting them in the selection of OTC vitamin supplements. Women should also be advised of the impact of stress during pregnancy—a factor researchers said could also raise autism risk.

These hypotheses demand further investigation, the report’s authors wrote. In the meantime, mothers should seek the best possible prenatal care and closely monitor second children of closely spaced pregnancies for early signs of developmental problems.

For other articles in this issue, see:

  • Extreme Obesity Linked to H1N1 Mortality
  • Summit Sheds Light on Escalating Drug Shortages