New Study Finds Induction Drugs May be Linked to Autism

autism, induction
Image via Flickr/Lutty Moreira


A recent study suggests that autism might be linked to drugs used during induction, which speeds up labor. This is the biggest study of its kind, including more than 625,042 births in the sample pool. Of those births, 170,000 were induced or sped up. In total, 5,648 of the  babies in the study group developed autism. Almost 1/3 of the affected boys were born to mothers who had their labor induced or hastened, though the connection was less pronounced in the girls studied. 

The findings suggest it's possible that labor-inducing drugs might increase the risk, but that the increase may also be a result of health issues related to labor induction, such as diabetes in expectant mothers and fetal complications.

The study doesn't provide conclusive answers; and the authors say the results shouldn't lead doctors to avoid inducing labor or speeding it up, because it can be life-saving for mothers and babies.

The study doesn't provide conclusive answers; and the authors say the results shouldn't lead doctors to avoid inducing labor or speeding it up, because it can be life-saving for mothers and babies.

These findings are frightening considering how many women are induced every day; worse still is how many women electively have inductions. This information needs to be shared with any mother considering an induction.

I was induced with both of my daughters because my obstetrician was concerned that my babies might get too large to be birthed naturally. Both times, I was induced in my 39th week. Many women are induced every day in the United States for a variety of reasons; some are even elective inductions.  

I’ve had friends who were induced to make sure they had their baby before a special event, or to make sure their husband was in town, or just to make sure that their doctor wasn’t on vacation. There are a host of reasons that women choose to get induced. Up until now, it’s never been anyone’s business because it only affected the mother and her baby. It was her choice – her right. But how can you make a choice without having all the facts?

Doctors don’t warn mothers before they get induced that it will be excruciating, nor that inducing medications also intensify the pain of contractions. I found that out the hard way during an unmedicated transition labor. That I can get over.

But if anyone had ever mentioned that induction could even remotely be linked to autism, I would have emphatically declined. I don’t believe any mother would knowingly put her child in danger, even if the chances were small. If it were a matter of life or death, I believe most mothers would choose to have a C-section, rather than take the chance that the drugs could cause autism.

What would you do in light of this new study?

As with all studies of this nature, this analysis represents just one take on the study results. More studies are needed to determine the relationship, if any, between inductions and autism.

What do you think?

New Study Finds Induction Drugs May be Linked to Autism

Deborah Cruz, @TruthfulMommy, is the creator of The TRUTH about Motherhood, an often humorous and brutally honest look at motherhood. She's a writer, a wife, and a work-at-home Mommy who's trying to do it all well. She live in the Midwest with her 2 little girls and her husband. She has a lot of degrees from a bunch of schools but mostly spends her days shuttling people under the age of 7, while trying to maintain her sanity and she wouldn't have it any other way. She talks a lot. She ... More

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  1. Morgan Hart says:

    I haven’t read the actual article, but a better question is what percentage of uninduced babies developed autism? This is poor journalism. Also, what other variables are accounted for? What factors which lead to the induction may contribute to the autism diagnosis?

  2. Caitlin says:

    I don’t really believe this. My sister, who is 15 months younger than myself has Aspergers and my mother was not induced during her labor for her. However, during her labor for myself she was and I am not autistic nor do I have any developmental issues in the autism spectrum.

  3. Erin says:

    Just another attempt to grasp at straws finding a cause for autism. While I’m not a doctor or in a related field, I have worked with autistic children and have my own beliefs as to what might cause it. I think it definitely has something to do with genetics since I witnessed multiple children in the same family with autism. But, again, I have no medical background to state this as fact.

    I was also induced because I was already in labor for hours after having my water broken at the hospital and was getting no where. Definitely was not how I wanted it to go, but I now have a healthy baby boy. If he has autism it is NOT the end of the world. Of course every parent wants a perfectly healthy child that develops “normally”, but some of the most awesome people I’ve met are autistic or have Down’s and I would be so proud of my son no matter what.

  4. Nan says:

    This sounds like the vaccination scare and the epidural scare all over. I completely agree that babies should not be induced unless necessary. They tend to come out when they’re ready. However, just as with the vaccination scare, there is not enough evidence to show a direct correlation. With the vaccinations, the best they could do was to blame it on the thimerosal, though it is not proven that thimerosal is harmful. We have yet to see a reason why birth-inducing drugs cause health problems.

    I was giving birth to my son vaginally. They detected that his heart rate was going down. They gave me oxygen and induction drugs to speed things up. When he came out, the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. He was okay, though.

    It is possible that more women induce because of complications, which could also correlate with autism.

    As far as we know, unless it’s a life-threatening situation, vaginal is still better than Cesarian.

    That is all.

  5. Kristen says:

    Inconclusive article with no hard evidence. Any good writer knows that most people don’t read past the first two paragraphs. This is the typical voice of our media lately. We need to realize the effect that writing this type of article has. Somewhere tonight a first time pregnant girl is reading this and is scared…or a mom of a child with autism is beating herself up because her labor was induced. This is careless and I did the numbers as well as the person that posted before me stating that in actuality it’s more like 1%. The initiator of this type of alleged news knows two things…1. Most people will not read past the first two paragraphs and 2. That most readers will not do the math. Let’s stop scaring mothers about everything from mosquito bites, crib deaths, vaccines etc for news. Better we support each other and alert our fellow moms of real news.

    • Nan says:

      This story is all over the news. I haven’t checked the other news sources, yet. But I already feel like this is another scare to guilt mothers over their choices. They never write overly profound articles for this site. Most articles are for shock value or to initiate conversation. I would check the other news sources and read on the induction drugs to see if there might be any real correlation. However, I doubt it.

  6. Kitty says:

    Correlation does not mean causation, and even the conclusions of the study state that this is only a starting point for further research, and bring up some of the issues expressed here. Sadly, journalists tend to have very little scientific knowledge and tend to not read nor understand the text of these journal articles. The abstract to the article (the only part available for free) is here

  7. Jeanene says:

    It is actually less than 1%…read this again, “This is the biggest study of its kind, including more than 625,042 births in the sample pool. Of those births, 170,000 were induced or sped up. In total, 5,648 of the babies in the study group developed autism.”…IN TOTAL…of the babies in the study group…that is all 625,042. So the math on that is 0.903% that developed autism. Not trying to make light of this, because I am not, but it is a very small percentage. Even if you took the % based on the 170,000 it is 3%

  8. Molly says:

    This is interesting and yet lacks very important information as many have already noted. Specifically, I’d like to know what induction drugs they are referring to. Induction can be a gel ripening the cervix, an IV drip of pictocin, and there are other ways to ‘induce’ like acupuncture and Evening Primrose Oil. Does this study include everything used to induce or a specific drug that was used?

  9. Kathleen says:

    Well, sadly it is not only 3%, but a significant 33% of children from the experimental group who developed autism. The other 455,042 children belong to control groups. It is not new to anybody that drugs taken during your pregnancy can affect your unborn child, but rare would be the case in which you will get a full explanation of all the side effects you and your child could have after an epidural for example. In some cases the benefit is higher than the risk, but if you can abstain of using any types of drugs during your pregnancy and delivery do it. You don’t need a doctorate to comprehend that what goes into your blood and can cause you side effects, can cause it also to your baby. Anyways… I would appreciate if the author of the article would provide more information about the study: “a study” ok, performed where? Who did the study? When? What were variables within the control and research groups? What is the degree of study contamination presented on the results? A link to the original study would suffice.

    • dvmsara says:

      “Well, sadly it is not only 3%, but a significant 33% of children from the experimental group who developed autism.” Ummm, no…what numbers are you reading??

  10. jess says:

    I am not sure why someone would want to be induced early if it wasn’t for a health reason and this is what bothers me about this article.

  11. NewMom13 says:

    So, these births that eventually lead to autism represents less than 3% of the births studied here? And that 3% is somehow considered LINKED? This all sounds inconclusive and, at best, weak. I agree with Michelle and Jeff here in that there needs to be more info before these kinds of sweeping statements are made and women are needlessly frightened.

  12. MrsPearson says:

    See im pass my due date even the one were i know for sure is the real date an now i have to be inducted an i dont care for that anyway soo now its a possibility for this….

  13. Jeff says:

    I think you may have misquoted the Huffington Post article that was linked in the first sentence. you’re article states:

    “This is the biggest study of its kind, including more than 625,042 births in the sample pool. Of those births, 170,000 were induced or sped up; and of those, 5,648 of those babies developed autism.”

    This suggests that the 5,648 babies who developed autism were from the 170,000 induced births where actually they were a culmination of all 625,042 births, at least according to the Huffington Post article:

    “The researchers examined eight years of North Carolina birth records, and matched 625,042 births with public school data from the late 1990s through 2008. Information on autism diagnoses didn’t specify whether cases were mild or severe. Labor was induced or hastened in more than 170,000 births.

    Overall, 5,648 children developed autism – three times as many boys as girls. Among autistic boys, almost one-third of the mothers had labor started or hastened, versus almost 29 percent of the boys without autism. The differences were less pronounced among girls.”

  14. Kasey says:

    Seeing Autism happen with my own eyes, 2 days after a round of shots is all I need, thanks. Look up the Hanna Polling case, the Bailey Banks case, the Italian vaccine court cases… Why are vaccine courts giving all of these autistic children millions of dollars every year?! Because the vaccines caused their Autism…. Oh, but they use the word “triggered” and not “caused” 😉 So, in other words, if these precious babies wouldn’t have gotten the shots, they would be typically developing today….Unless you know a child who’s life was RUINED because of a damn “Well Baby Check” at the pediatrician, don’t judge!

  15. Michelle says:

    Another useful bit of info would be how many of the induced moms were over 35? And what about family history of autism?

  16. Dani says:

    I think the important thing to note here is that is may be LINKED. Not that it may cause autism. I’m thinking that if there is, in fact, ANY correlation between the two, then it may be that babies who have autism need to be induced. Perhaps your body doesn’t properly release the hormone(s) needs to make you go into labor naturally. Autism is a neurological disorder. I sincerely doubt that it could be “caused” by something at the time of delivery.

    And to Kasey, autism is NOT caused by vaccines. Your thinking is akin to people being afraid of getting HIV from toilet seats. It is antiquated. You need to find more reliable resources for information.

    And what makes you think there are no children in the Amish community that are on the spectrum? People they don’t talk about it all the time? I’d being willing to bet quite a bit that there are.

  17. Kasey says:

    Soooooo….. How many moms participating in this study got a Flu shot during pregnancy?! How many of these babies were given the HEP B shot at birth? Vaccines are causing Autism, period. ZERO Amish children have Autism because they aren’t injected with all of those disgusting chemicals! I saw a totally normal child regress into Autism 2 days after 15 month shots! There has NEVER been a side by side study on vaccinated and non vaccinated kids because the CDC is too scared of what they will find! This study on induction is just silly!

    • Veronica says:

      I have not seen any evidence that Zero Amish children have autism. Given their relative isolation, it would be difficult
      to know how many Amish children have it. Further, research had already shown vaccines do not
      cause autism. There is another great study out that correlates placenta damage to autism. This placenta damage would likely lead to necessary inductions in some women. So, I think the inductions are a clue but possibly not the ultimate cause. All these people insisting on focusing on vaccines are delaying research into actual
      viable causes.

  18. dvmsara says:

    PEOPLE! This is ONE study, with INCONCLUSIVE results. I’m all for avoiding induction if it’s not needed, but if it IS needed, I wouldn’t panic about autism. I wish the media would just hold off on reporting things like this until there is some corroboration of the results, because most people in the general public just don’t understand how scientific studies work. It seems this author intentionally sensationalized the study, and/or totally misunderstood it. Go read the article in Huff Post (it is linked at the beginning of this article). Mrs. Cruz says, “The findings suggest it’s possible that labor-inducing drugs might increase the risk of health issues such as diabetes in expectant mothers and fetal complications, also linked with autism.” This is totally absurd–what the actual article says is: “It’s possible that labor-inducing drugs might increase the risk – or that the problems that lead doctors to start labor explain the results. These include mothers’ diabetes and fetal complications, which have previously been linked with autism.” They were NOT saying that induction drugs increase diabetes or fetal complications, but rather that it may be THESE CONDITIONS (not drugs) that cause BOTH an increased risk of autism AND increased need to induce.

    The article also specifically says, “Like most research into autism causes, THE STUDY DOESN’T PROVIDE CONCLUSIVE ANSWERS, and the authors say THE RESULTS SHOULDN’T LEAD DOCTORS TO AVOID INDUCING LABOR or speeding it up since it can be life-saving for mothers and babies.”

  19. Nivia says:

    I still think the link between gluten intolerance with the mother may be a factor. I’ve had a couple of friends who have children with autism and had no clue that they had a gluten intolerance until the symptoms showed up more so with a later child.

  20. KristinK says:

    What you need to pay attention to (like Kaylin brings up) is this study is ONLY on North Carolina births. It is not a randomized study of the entire US. Very geographically pinpointed to a specific location, not broad. Which could indicate environmental factors as well. The study doesn’t specify which drugs were used. They use terms such as ‘induce’, ‘hasten’, ‘speed up’. These terms need to have parameters, they are too vague. And albeit, the study itself says INCONCLUSIVE results meaning, their likely was no corresponding significance (a statistically significant rate). Meaning it’s more of an occurrence, than a correlation. Again, are their environmental factors at play? I may be the devils advocate, and yes I work in the health field. I would like to read the study myself.

  21. Kaylin says:

    #1. Where is this study? I’d like to read the results myself.

    #2. MIGHT. Why cause a huge uproar AGAIN (like in the vaccination “results” that were untrue) with results that aren’t solid?

    #3. “The study doesn’t provide conclusive answers.”

  22. Tina says:

    This is really nice to know. I’m glad I read this now and not after I have my baby.

  23. Phammom says:

    I’m hoping for all natural but yes if it comes down to it I would prefer a c section over inducing.

  24. Angela says:

    This has me a bit worried. My stepmother chose to be induced for the birth of my youngest brother. He’s now six, and last year was diagnosed with autism. I never would have linked the two. I had to be induced at 39 weeks with my son due to preeclampsia. He’s almost 2 now, and seems okay so far.

    • dvmsara says:

      The fact that she was induced and he has autism means nothing. There are millions of kids who were born after an induction and DON’T have autism, and millions of kids whose birth was NOT induced who DO have autism. You can’t make any judgment based on just ONE case (i.e. your brother).

  25. Kristen says:

    Wow! This really makes me think. I am 35 weeks pregnant and will not get induced unless it is necessary for mine or the babies health. It’s just not worth it in my opinion.

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