What Happens in the First Days of Baby's Life Could Increase Autism Risk

NICU babyHaving a newborn can be stressful -- baby is learning how to live outside the womb while parents are learning how to keep baby alive and thriving. Add any issue into the mix, and it's even harder.

Any parent of a baby who had to spend time in the NICU can tell you that it can be very challenging and worrisome. When baby is finally released, there is a sigh of relief, but now a new study has come along to give us another dose of fear. Children who have spent time in the NICU have a significantly higher chance of having autism spectrum disorder.


I'm not sure what to make of this study as it seems that both everything and nothing causes autism. We keep hearing more and more things that could increase the chance, but still no cure. Autism has been linked to induction, pollution, being an older mom or dad, getting the flu during pregnancy, and so much more. I can go on and on. We just don't know. But this is what we do know about this latest study.

When looking at 180 full-term babies admitted to the NICU, the McGill University in Montreal's study showed that 6.7 percent were later diagnosed with autism -- that makes this rate 16 to 67 times higher than the general population. Many of these children -- 75 percent of them -- had global developmental delays, epilepsy, and/or cerebral palsy. Generally speaking, the study's co-author said, these babies had "quite a rough time early in life."

Interestingly, only three of the children with autism were girls. Only seven were born by emergency cesarean, six had meconium found in amniotic fluid, and two had meconium aspiration, while seven had at least a bag-mask, and four had endotracheal intubation. One of the other authors of this study, Dr. Alexander Winkler-Schwartz, said:

Big picture: If you have a child in front of you that had an admission into the NICU -- had a bit of a rough time -- and has a comorbid diagnosis like cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and/or GDD, just consider that this group may be a little bit predisposed to developing autism later on. If these criteria of NICU admission and comorbid diagnosis are met, it might be [a good indication] to institute a screening.

Early screening, early detection, more help for the kids who need it. That's a good thing. And perhaps all these bits of info on what could cause autism will eventually add up, solve the puzzle, and help us better understand what does cause autism so we can truly work on a cure.

What do you think of this study? Did you have a child in the NICU?


Image via Official U.S. Navy Page/Flickr

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