Can You Prevent Autism During Pregnancy?
Autism is a complicated condition that affects 1 in 68 children. Experts still aren’t sure about the factors that contribute to the development of the condition. However, precautionary measures can be taken to minimize as much risk as possible and prevent autism during pregnancy.
Can Autism Be Prevented in Pregnancy?
There is not much evidence to suggest that autism can be prevented or cured, and neither is there a way to predict the development of the condition in children. Experts are still trying to piece together the factors that have been shown to have a correlation with autism. What’s uncertain is whether there is one cause or a number of causes. Some of the newest findings show that it begins even before the baby is born, as early as the second trimester. Other finds have linked nutritional deficiencies, exposure to pollutants, lifestyle choices and even medications to an increased risk of autism. Although there are no known ways to avoid autism during pregnancy, safety measures can be taken so that the known risk factors can be avoided.
Ways to Prevent Autism While Pregnant
Here are some tips on how to reduce the risk of autism during pregnancy:
1. Folic Acid Supplements
Folic acid is a critical nutrient for the development of the brain, without which foetuses are known to develop congenital disorders such as spina bifida. Newer studies into autism have shown that mothers who take their prenatal vitamins before conception have halved the risk of having a child with autism. It’s also known that women with a genetic predisposition are seven times more likely to have an autistic child without taking vitamins. All women need 600 to 800 mcg of folic acid every day, and pregnant women need a minimum of 600 mcg to reduce the autism risk.
2. Quitting Alcohol, Smoking and Drugs
It’s needless to know how bad for the health of smoking, drinking or doing drugs is for the body. The effects on a baby when pregnant mothers do it is devastating, to say the least. Alcohol is a teratogen that leads to a range of disorders in babies, including autism spectrum disorder. The same applies to smoking and doing drugs. Mothers who have a habit of substance abuse or have problems with addiction must quit their habits well before they consider having a child. Avoiding them during pregnancy is also imperative, and subsequently, while breastfeeding.
3. Breastfeed Babies
Breastfeeding is believed to be another factor in lowering the risk of autism in children. It was found that babies who weren’t breastfed and missed getting supplements of docosahexaenoic acid/arachidonic acid had an elevated risk of developing one of the autism spectrum disorders (ASD). It is also thought that a lack of essential fatty acids, such as Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, can also lead to ASD. This link could be due to the vital role fatty acids play in brain development.
4. Reduce Exposure to Pollutants
A strong link has been found between environmental pollution and the risk of autism, specifically due to air pollution in women. One study by the Harvard School of Public Health discovered that women who were exposed to high levels of air pollution, particularly during their third trimester, had twice the risk of children with autism. The risk was higher with higher levels of exposure. It is not clear, however, about what compounds or ranges of compounds in the pollutant category are more relevant. There are hundreds of chemicals from multiple sources, and it could be any of them. Therefore it’s best to move away from polluted areas of the city and avoid traffic during pregnancy.
5. Get Enough Iron
A 2014 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed that iron-deficient mothers gave birth to babies who were five times more likely to develop autism. Many other factors also contributed to raising the risks, such as the age of the woman being over 35 or older, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity or other metabolic conditions. Iron is a critical mineral to the development of the brain, and women with children with autism are either deficient in the mineral or significantly less likely to take supplements.
6. Maintain Good Health
Mother’s health definitely has an effect on the fetus, and ASD might not be an exception to this as well. Women who are severely ill enough to be hospitalized during pregnancy are at a higher risk of having children with autism. This is also supported by research, as studies have shown a link between maternal infections during pregnancy and elevated risk. It’s best, in general, for pregnant women to have nutritious food and live healthily.
7. Space Out Pregnancies
One study published in 2014 found that pregnancies that have spacing between them of 2 to 5 years had the lowest risk of children developing autism. It was found that babies that were conceived less than 12 months from the last pregnancy had 50 per cent more diagnoses of autism than those that were conceived between a time span of 2-5 years. It was also found that babies born after 5 years were 30 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with autism. Why it happens is unclear, but the age of the parents matters as well.
One other scientific way of preventing autism during pregnancy is the oral probiotic administration during pregnancy. Although there’s no surefire way to prevent autism during pregnancy, it’s possible to lower the risk. Women need to take their prenatal supplements and maintain a healthy lifestyle while avoiding risk factors.
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2. Schiavi. S, Carbone. E, et al.; Perinatal supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids corrects the aberrant social and cognitive traits observed in a genetic model of autism based on FMR1 deletion in rats; ResearchGate; https://www.researchgate.net/publication/344229947_Perinatal_supplementation_with_omega-3_fatty_acids_corrects_the_aberrant_social_and_cognitive_traits_observed_in_a_genetic_model_of_autism_based_on_FMR1_deletion_in_rats; September 2020
3. Moyer. MW; How pregnancy may shape a child’s autism; Spectrum; https://www.spectrumnews.org/features/deep-dive/pregnancy-may-shape-childs-autism/; December 2018
4. Cheng. J, Eskenazi. B, Widjaja. F, et al.; Improving autism perinatal risk factors: A systematic review; Medical Hypotheses, ScienceDirect; https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306987719300325; June 2019
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