It’s Safe To Use Epidurals During Labor: They Do Not Cause Autism

It’s Safe To Use Epidurals During Labor: They Do Not Cause Autism

Epidurals are a common form of pain relief used during childbirth. Over the last few years, there has been an intense debate in the medical community regarding the possible side effects of epidurals on newborns. One of the problems under contention was the instances of autism in children below 18 months of age. But recently a new study has completely disproved these claims. No link has been found between the usage of epidurals and the children born from those deliveries developing autism. 

It’s Safe To Use Epidurals During Labor: They Do Not Cause Autism

New study 

A study was published in April 2019 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics analyzing the relationship between autism spectrum disorders and the use of epidurals during childbirth. The study, when it took into account different variables like demography, birth condition, and medical issues, found that there was no causative link between the two events. This study is a significant breakthrough in the arena of labor pain management techniques. A study from California published in the same journal in 2018 had made diametrically opposite claims. But the new study has taken into account the weaknesses of the first one and conducted the analysis over a larger range of subjects 

It’s Safe To Use Epidurals During Labor: They Do Not Cause Autism
  • The researchers studied all infants born at a hospital in Manitoba located in Canada
  • The study was conducted over ten years from 2005 to 2016
  • The researchers were thus able to study a huge volume of data
  • But all cesarean deliveries were excluded from the study. This was done because there was not adequate information regarding planned and unplanned cesarean deliveries.
  • The study eventually ended up studying 123, 175 infants. The mothers had an average age of 28 years.
  • Among all these deliveries 38.2% of mothers chose to use epidurals during childbirth
  • Among the women who used epidurals 2.1% of the infants were diagnosed to be on the autism spectrum before 18 months of age
  • Among the children of women who did not use epidurals the cases of autism spectrum disorders were 1.7%
  • But this initial difference in figures was rendered insignificant after the other variables regarding childbirth and child health and demography were all factored into the analysis

Expert opinions

Scott M. Meyer, a neurodevelopmental pediatrician based in Pennsylvania has commended the new study for its inclusion of a wide variety of variables. Other eminent personalities in the medical world also hold the same view. 

The only difference between epidural labor analgesia and any other form of pain management during labor is that epidurals can slightly prolong labor. But as of yet, studies have not been able to show any significant relation between extended labor and autism spectrum disorder risk factors. 

Clay Jones a doctor of neonatal medicine in Massachusetts claims that the new study published in April 2019 is more comprehensive and studies the wide variety of variables which is necessary rather than just taking the slightly higher figures of autism spectrum disorders associated with epidurals on face value. 

The consensus among doctors at present is that autism spectrum disorders are related to differences in brain function that can be attributed to genetic factors. So for doctors to accept any environmental factors, like the use of epidurals as a risk factor for autism, there would have to be very significant proof, which has not yet been found. 

Doctors and researchers at this juncture of time believe that epidurals are a safe and effective form of labor analgesia. New research may come up with different findings in the coming years. But unless any drastically new findings are established, doctors are not keen to change the labor pain management programs of epidurals that are used at present. 



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