Closely Spaced Pregnancies Put Babies at Risk for Autism

Sasha Brown-Worsham
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No matter how many children you have, how close you space them, or how you treat them once they are here, someone is going to tell you that you are doing it wrong or that the way you are doing it will cause problems. Now, it seems science is supporting that, too.

A new study reveals that closely spaced pregnancies (less than one year apart) could triple the risk of autism in the second child. According to Business Week:

Researchers looked at birth records for about 660,000 second-born children born in California between 1992 and 2002. Autism diagnoses were confirmed using records from the California Department of Developmental Services.

The highest risk was seen in babies conceived within a year of their older sibling. Babies conceived within 12 to 23 months and 24 to 35 months of their older sibling were also at a heightened risk of autism, although the risk was not as pronounced.

For those of us who spaced our pregnancies this way (see above), the news is a bit jarring.

No one is sure of the reasons for these findings. It could have something to do with the mother's body not having enough time to recover completely from the prior pregnancy.

"When you have a child so quickly after the first, the womb environment may not have sufficiently recovered to properly support a second pregnancy," said Andy Shih, vice president of scientific affairs for Autism Speaks.

The first pregnancy may deplete important stores of folate and iron, and the mother may also be more stressed during the second pregnancy because she is presumably chasing after a newly mobile toddler.

There is also a more obvious reason: When your children are close together, you see the developmental differences more quickly. Mine are 18 months apart and my son was placed in early intervention at 12 months because he wasn't crawling. Two years later he is fine, but if he had been my first, I may not have realized that his bum scoot was something to ask the doctor about.

The fact is, the rise in autism scarily correlates with the rise in people having children closer together.

Between 1995 and 2002, the proportion of births occurring within 24 months of a previous birth increased from 11 percent to 18 percent.

This could be due to more women delaying first pregnancies and feeling hurried to have their second child because of worries about declining fertility, the researchers noted.

Either way, it's disconcerting news. With children who were born within a year and a half of one another, we got a lot of "you must be insane" comments, but this is something else. On the other hand, my children are currently in the room next to me playing prince and princess on their snow day from school. They are entertained by one another and adore having a constant companion.

If it's wrong, I guess I don't want to be right.

Does this study worry you?



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