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New Study Explores Pitocin and Autism Link

Pitocin and AutismA new study suggests a link between Pitocin and autism, although a cause and effect between the two has yet to be determined. Both use of Pitocin during labor and incidences of autism have spiked in the past two decades, leading researchers to take a closer look at the possible relationship between the two.

Higher incidence of autism when Pitocin used in labor

The study, which was recently published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, found that women who were given Pitocin to induce or speed up the labor process were 23 percent more likely to have children diagnosed with autism. Duke University researchers conducting the study examined birth records from more than 625,000 babies born in North Carolina between 1990 and 1998 to find the Pitocin and autism connection.

Researchers then compared those records with public school records of the same children, to see which ones were later diagnosed with autism. Children born after induced labor using Pitocin were 13 percent more likely to be diagnosed with autism. When the labor process was sped up with Pitocin, the children born to those mothers had a 16 percent higher risk of an autism diagnosis by the time they reached school age.

The autism risk found in this study was similar to the risk found with mothers giving birth at a later age or babies that are born early. Researchers from the study caution that the results do not necessarily indicate autism is one of the side effects of Pitocin. It is also possible that a developing baby with autism may not send the proper signals for a timely labor and delivery. More research will be needed to see exactly how the use of Pitocin might impact the child’s development during this critical time.

About Pitocin and autism

Pitocin is a synthetic form of oxytocin, a natural hormone that is produced in bursts by a woman’s body to induce contractions for the labor process. Pitocin may be used to induce labor when required by the mother’s medical condition or problems with the baby. It can also be used to speed up the labor process when it is not progressing naturally.

Because Pitocin is administered continuously, rather than in short bursts like the natural hormone, contractions are different for the mother. Pitocin-induced contractions are often described as harder and more painful, without the gradual increase in intensity that natural labor is characterized by. For this reason, women are also more likely to require pain medication during a Pitocin-induced labor.

Autism is a group of developmental problems that affect speech, communication and interaction with others. It is typically diagnosed in children during the early childhood years. Symptoms might include resistance to holding, failure to communicate with others and repetitive motions like hand-flapping or rocking. There is no cure for autism at this time, but there are treatment options to help parents and children manage the symptoms.

Autism numbers on the rise

Since 1980, incidences of autism have been steadily increasing. In 1980, one child in every 5,000 was diagnosed with autism. Today, 1 in 70 boys is diagnosed with the condition. Boys appear to be at higher risk for autism than girls.

The researchers in the study, as well as others specializing in labor and delivery, are quick to point out that there may be overriding medical reasons for using Pitocin during labor that are more urgent than the risks associated with the drug. However, researchers agree these results suggest the need for further study into the Pitocin and autism link.