A balanced discussion: Are C-Sections Contributing to Autism Spectrum Disorders? (1) – there’s no conclusive evidence; and (2) let’s stop making women feel guilty!
An American health website recently posed the question to its followers and readers – Are C-Sections Contributing to Autism? (Ref 1). A facet of this contentious story is that C-sections alter the microbiome in the child; microbiomes being microorganisms that, among other things, protect us against germs and produce compounds like vitamins.
It follows then, according to supporters of the ‘C-Section and autism theory’, at least, that disrupted gut flora may act as a trigger for autism spectrum conditions (ASCs). The individual behind the recent discussions surrounding this debate is natural-birth pioneer, Dr. Michel Odent; he’s said to believe that the following factors may be partly responsible for rising autism diagnosis rates by ‘triggering a genetic predisposition for autism’:
|The use of synthetic oxytocin to induce labour
Changing environmental conditions in the womb
The increasing trend of elective C-sections
Baby deliveries and autism
There are certainly some robust-looking studies supporting Dr Odent’s theories. One Swedish, 2015 study (ref 2) aimed to investigate the association between the mode of baby deliveries and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and utilised data from 1982-2010; the full cohort consisted of 2,697,315 children, and it was found that, in this study at least, children born by C-section were approximately 20% more likely to be diagnosed as having ASD. (The average percentage of individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum conditions is usually quoted as being around 1 – 2.5%).
HOWEVER – the Swedish study did state, in a rather confusingly worded manner, that C-Sections have not been conclusively shown to be causative of autism. Instead, the researchers made a nod to genetic or environmental factors, stating: ‘The association [that the study children born by C-section were approximately 20% more likely to be diagnosed as having ASD] is due to familial confounding by genetic and/or environmental factors.’
LET’S MAKE IT CLEAR – WE’RE NOT NAYSAYING THESE AUTISM THEORIES!
But, as with any story, there are many theorists and theories. If you want to read more, the UK’s Guardian asked ‘How long can humanity survive now?’ in a 2017 feature with Dr Odent, now retired.
The feature, putting forward opposing views to Dr Odent’s, cited ASD specialist Paul Wang as stating: “A foetus with developmental issues may have low muscle tone that can interfere with moving into proper position for natural delivery. In this and other ways, the foetus plays a crucial role in initiating and advancing natural labour.”
The Guardian also pointed out that the difficulties associated with autism – e.g. motor planning, hypo or hyper sensory differences, and communication impairments – may make it difficult for the ALREADY AUTISTIC BABY in the womb to engage in the birth process in the ‘standard’ way.
“Suggesting that inducing labour or delivering a baby via caesarean may lead to autism is irresponsible…”
Dr Carole Buckley, the Royal College of General Practitioners’ clinical representative on autism, was disturbed by Dr Odent’s hypothesis linking C-Sections to autism in his book: ‘The Birth of Homo, The Marine Chimpanzee’, telling the Guardian: “There is no evidence to support the claims in the book, and it is extremely unhelpful of Dr Odent to make them. Suggesting that inducing labour or delivering a baby via caesarean may lead to autism is irresponsible. It will only increase anxiety and feelings of guilt or inadequacy that women often feel when they need intervention to give birth to their babies.”
We have to agree with Dr Carole Buckley’s views on autism and C-Sections…
A further note to consider within this discussion is the link proposed by some individuals that ‘toxic exposures’ to the mother while her baby is in utero have been cited as a risk for autism spectrum conditions on numerous occasions.
This includes the ASC profile ‘Asperger Syndrome’.
However, while there’s plenty of useful information online and in print to help us form our own decisions and make choices, the most likely outcome does seem to be this one, as proposed by Craig Newschaffer, director of the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute at Drexel University: “There could conceivably be some biological mechanism [‘causing’ autism] that might be activated by a range of different complications – people have suggested inflammation, or hormone pathways.” In other words – this is a multifactorial issue.
Craig Newschaffer also told the New York Times that while it’s very important for the public to be aware that there are environmental risk factors in the development of autism, “Pointing a finger at mom is not the endgame of this kind of research. The endgame isn’t going to be about individual decision making, but more about informing policy.”
Ref 1 – Dr Mercola: Are C-Sections Contributing to Autism?
Ref 2 – ‘Association Between Obstetric Mode of Delivery and Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Population-Based Sibling Design Study, Eileen A. Curran et al. JAMA Psychiatry:2015;72(9):935-942.
Interested in finding out more? Why not read our blog on the diagnostic criteria for autism?
A little disclaimer – here at Spectra.blog we don’t claim to be experts about Autism Spectrum Conditions / Disorders; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences.
Also published on Medium.