Study: Distance between pregnancies tied to child’s autism risk

ATLANTA — Thinking about having more kids? How long you wait to have your next child may impact the new baby’s health. A new study finds that both waiting too long or rushing to conceive again shortly after having your previous child raises the newborn’s risk of being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at data on about 1,507 second- or later-born children from six states. Of the study group, 356 had been diagnosed with ASD, while another 627 had other developmental disabilities.

Newborn baby
A new study finds that distance between pregnancies — whether too long or too short —  can increase the chances of a child being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). (Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash)

The authors determined that children conceived in less than 18 months or more than 60 months from the birth of their closest sibling were at a higher risk of an ASD diagnosis.

“These findings support existing guidelines on pregnancy spacing and further highlight the association between autism and pregnancy health,” says lead author Dr. Laura Schieve, an epidemiologist with the CDC’s National Center of Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, in a news release. “Couples thinking about getting pregnant should discuss pregnancy planning with a trusted doctor or healthcare provider.”

Schieve says that time between pregnancies did not factor into other developmental disabilities.

As for possible reasons for the association of time between pregnancies and Autism Spectrum Disorder, some researchers believe that a depletion of nutrients, particularly folic acid, from the previous pregnancy may effect children conceived shortly after their sibling’s birth. Unintended pregnancies may also result in irregular outcomes for children, which could explain the connection in those conceived five years after their closest sibling.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 68 children in the United States have been diagnosed with some form of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Common symptoms that parents can look out for include having repetitive unusual behaviors, holding an intense interest in certain topics, struggling to make eye contact with others, and having adverse reactions to new or overly stimulated settings. You can learn more about the condition and additional symptoms by clicking here.

The study’s findings were published in the journal Autism Research.