A study released on Monday found a link between induced or augmented labor, that is, the use of Pitocin, and autism.

Women whose doctors decided to begin labor by administering Pitocin, an artificial form of oxytocin, or to speed up contractions with Pitocin were up to 23 percent more likely to have children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

Sorry I can't find a link to the actual study yet. Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2013/08/13/induced-labor-linked-to-higher-autism-risk/#ixzz2bs2jhpuR

Researchers matched the birth records for 625,000 babies in North Carolina over an eight-year period with their public school records, which would include an ASD diagnosis. They found that kids born via induced labor had a 13 percent higher risk of developing autism, while augmented or sped-up labor made it 16 percent more likely that the child would develop ASD. When induction and augmentation were combined, a child had a 23 percent greater risk of ASD.

According to USA Today, lead author Simon Gregory thinks there is not a direct link between pitocin and autism, but rather in something going wrong in the pregnancy that requires induced labor.

The increased autism risk in the JAMA study likely stems from an underlying problem with the pregnancy, rather than any of the methods used to jump-start labor, says lead author Simon Gregory of the Duke Institute of Molecular Physiology.

This is a bit surprising, because Gregory was the lead author of a 2009 study that found evidence that epigenetic regulation of the oxytocin signaling pathway might contribute to the development of the disorder. That is, environmental factors, whether internal or external to the body, might cause oxytocin receptors to not function correctly. (Genomic and epigenetic evidence for oxytocin receptor deficiency in autism, BMC Medicine 2009, 7:62.

Read my earlier blog post on this study.

Moreover, Gregory seems to ignore the fact that labor is routinely induced and/or augmented in hospital births, whether or not there is a true problem with the pregnancy: In 2008, 23.1 percent of all births were induced, according to the U.S. Census. I can't find any good stats on the percentage of births that are augmented, also known as actively managed, but my understanding is that it's most hospital births. (Active management of birth means that the hospital sets a time period in which it expects labor to be completed and does whatever it takes to meet that time frame. A pitocin drip is started and the dosage is increased to keep the labor on that timetable.)

Birth educators and ASD activists have long thought there might be a link between the use of artificial oxytocin during labor and birth and the development of autism spectrum disorder.

Natural birth advocate Michel Odent is one of many who believes the use of Pitocin can disrupt the bond between mother and baby, as well as contribute to autism.

One theory is that the flood of oxytocin shuts down oxytocin receptors in the baby's brain, preventing them from functioning correctly later in life.

In a natural birth, oxytocin pulses come from the mother's hypothalamus, creating contractions -- and also traveling in the baby's bloodstream through the placenta. The bodies and brains of mother and baby have time to rest and reset between the oxytocin rushes. But in actively managed -- augmented -- birth, Pitocin is a steady drip that is usually constantly increased until the baby is delivered.

Whether or not you attribute the results of Gregory's latest study to induction or augmentation itself, I think it makes sense to limit the amount of drugs infused into a newborn's system.

 Read more:

Could Pitocin During Labor Program Oxytocin Receptors?

The Case for Harm from Pitocin in Labor

Medical Meddling in Birth

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