Pregnancy, labor, birth, and autism

Autism rates have soared in the past generation or so. While some people say that we are just identifying more cases that would have been sub-clinical or missed in previous years, many people are concerned — and rightly so — about the high levels of autism in the U.S. population. I think the current rate of autism is 1 in 166 children, with it affecting more boys than girls.

It’s no surprise that it affects boys more frequently. Despite females being called “the weaker sex”, many (perhaps even most) diseases and conditions are recognized to affect boys more than girls; and males die at a faster rate at every age, from conception through old age. But the reasons behind autism are not well understood.

In a recent post, I posted a comment by a woman who wonders if her son’s autism was caused by lack of oxygen to his brain because the cord was wrapped around his neck four times. That’s a plausible theory. The brain is actually poorly understood, even among the most eminent of doctors, and we live in an exciting time of medical advancements and increasing understanding. But even if it’s true in this case, nuchal cords certainly do not necessarily cause autism. A friend of mine (who does not have the slightest hint of autism) was born blue with the cord wrapped around her neck three times and the doctor thought she was stillborn, but unwrapped the cord and resuscitated her. She has no learning disabilities or problems — in fact, she is an elementary school teacher.

But could anoxia or hypoxia lead some children to develop autism? That would be an interesting thing for researchers to study. If you’ll read that woman’s story, she said she felt her son thrashing around inside her as someone who was drowning or suffocating might; when she went to the doctor, the fetal heartrate was abnormally low. When they induced labor, the heartrate dropped dangerously low, and the baby was born by C-section. Although the baby’s Apgar scores were excellent (9/9), the mother wonders if the lack of oxygen contributed to his possibly having autism.

One huge problem that contributes to the speculation and confusion surrounding the question of the reasons behind autism. There has been much publicity about the potential link between autism and vaccines — with the majority of the discussion in popular media on celebrities Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey who certainly believe that vaccines gave her son autism. If you follow that link, you’ll see that she has cured her son’s autism by having him follow a strict diet. This diet has helped numerous people with autism, but not all. Just as there may be more than one “cure” or “help” for autism, so there may be more than one cause. The rate of vaccination — the number of different diseases for which vaccines exist, the number and frequency of the shots, as well as the number and percentage of children who are getting vaccinated — is much higher than it was a generation or two ago. However, this is post-hoc fallacy. It may be a correct conclusion, but the “logic” behind that conclusion is false.

There is a big difference in a lot of ways, between children born in the 40s or the 70s and those born today. The rate of vaccines is one; the rate of inductions and augmentations is another. If the above woman is correct that her son’s autism is at least partially due to oxygen deprivation from a nuchal cord, then it’s possible that other reasons behind oxygen deprivation (aging or inadequate placenta, contractions that are too strong or too close together, etc.) could also be the causes of some other cases of autism. I recently heard of a woman who has heard that some people are linking Pitocin and autism, and is so concerned about this potential connection that her current birth plan wishes is that if her doctor thinks her labor should be augmented or induced with Pitocin, then she’d rather just have a C-section. I think that’s overkill, but if she’s so worried about it, there may be some good reason for it in her case. After all, not everybody is allergic to peanuts or strawberries, but there are some who will die if they eat them. In the same way, not everyone who is exposed to Pitocin or who suffers from diminished fetal oxygen becomes autistic, but if this woman is so concerned, maybe there is some intuitive thing she’s picking up on. While I’d rather have a little bit of Pitocin than a C-section, it’s her call to make, because it’s her body that will be recovering from the surgery.

The only case of autism I know of personally is in a girl who also has a genetic defect — in some ways similar to Down Syndrome (but affecting a different chromosome), with mental retardation. Her particular defect is fairly rare (in fact, I think she is the only person in the United States with this precise defect — the particular arm of the chromosome and the amount of genetic material involved), so how much of the mental retardation and autism is strictly due to the genetic defect and how much could be contributed to other factors (such as the frequent seizures she had in her infancy — finally discovered to be primarily related to teething) is anybody’s guess. While I don’t think she had any nuchal cords, she did go “overdue”, was getting into post-dates territory, when her mother finally induced “naturally” and gave birth to her at home with a CNM. The midwife said the placenta showed signs of age, so it’s possible the baby could have had reduced oxygen during labor, even without the contractions being artificially stimulated by drugs like Pitocin.

This article questions a possible link between ultrasound and autism, among other conditions. This also is plausible. But like the above-mentioned possibilities of vaccines or hypoxia, this one also depends heavily on post-hoc reasoning.

I daresay that the cause of autism is more properly rendered the causes of autism, with more than one reason behind it. In Gary Null’s book No More Allergies, which I read a couple months ago, he identifies a lot of disease states or conditions (such as asthma and arthritis, among many others) as being more properly considered allergies. In the book, he mentions many people who suffered from debilitating diseases who were able to cure themselves by figuring out what they were allergic to and eliminating that from their lives. In many cases, this was food; in others, environmental toxins. One of the things that he said is that Western medicine is of the opinion that every disease has one and only one cause, and one and only one cure (probably a bit of an exaggeration). He obviously disagreed with this, for he personally knew many people who had the same problem (like asthma), which cleared up when they identified the various causes for it (for some people, it was a sensitivity to milk; for others, it was lawn chemicals). What if some people are sensitive to bodily “insults” like vaccines, ultrasounds, or pitocin, and it manifests as autism — just as some people are sensitive to peanuts and it manifests in recognized symptoms of allergies.

If the disease that we call autism is actually caused by different factors, or by many factors working together, and science is looking for the “Magic Bullet”, then this conundrum will never be solved. I don’t know what research has gone into autism, because it hasn’t affected my life personally, so some of what I have said may be in error or has already been studied. If so, forgive my ignorance and feel free to post links to better information — I’m mostly “just talking” right here, because it’s a subject which intrigues me and this post is something I’ve thought about for quite a while. Anyway, I know that there are researchers that look at babies who die from SIDS, and try to find common threads among them, as a way of reducing the death rate from this unknown cause. There should be something like this for kids with autism.

I know that giving kids a pacifier will reduce their risk of SIDS. My kids refused pacis. They didn’t die from SIDS. Putting kids to sleep on their stomachs increases the risk of SIDS. My kids constantly woke themselves up when put to sleep on their backs (their hands would wave or jerk in their sleep, and they’d wake up). They didn’t die from SIDS. Vaccines do not “cause autism” in one sense, because not every child who gets a vaccine or who is fully vaccinated gets autism. But could vaccines increase the risk of autism, just as putting kids to sleep on their stomachs increases the risk of SIDS? Ditto for ultrasound and hypoxia. We don’t know what SIDS is, nor what causes it — if we did, we’d give it a better, more descriptive name. SIDS is the name for “this baby died and we don’t know why — all other causes of death have been ruled out… the baby just… stopped.” Autism is a similar puzzle; and just as there may be many factors that increase or decrease the risk of SIDS in infants, there may be many factors that increase or decrease the risk of autism in children.

Jenny McCarthy is absolutely 100% convinced that her son’s autism was caused solely because of vaccines. I’ve heard her on Oprah (the first time — I know she was on recently again, but it was preempted by coverage of the financial problems), and she gives clear and compelling testimony that her son was developing normally until receiving his 18-month MMR shot, and then he regressed into the world of autism, where he stayed until she put him on his strict diet. I’m not going to argue with her, and in fact I rather agree with her that vaccines (at least at the rate at which they’re currently given) may be harmful… at least to some kids. But if autism is ever diagnosed in children who have not received the MMR shot, or who are not vaccinated at all, then there must be an alternate cause — at least for those children. Ditto for ultrasound, Pitocin, fetal hypoxia, and any other potential reason.

I remember her saying previously, in response to skepticism that vaccines cause autism — especially in light of certain scientific studies which purport to disprove that theory — “My son is my science.” For her, it doesn’t matter what scientists have concluded — she has to believe her own eyes. In the article I linked to, she says that instead of people beating down her door trying to find out how she cured her son’s autism (although she doesn’t use the word “cure”), she has people questioning the validity of the original diagnosis. She says that most people — doctors and scientists — don’t want to accept the possibility that autism is curable, nor that some cases are caused by vaccines. Without the “stamp of approval” from the scientific and medical establishment, it will just be outsiders — parents of these children — who will keep spreading the word and trying to find answers for themselves. It will never be accepted by the masses at large until doctors and scientists finally accept it.

A lesson from history — Ignatz Semmelweis was right all along about washing hands to prevent “childbed fever” — yet in response to his proof that it worked, he was incarcerated in a mental hospital. Not until thirty years (and probably millions of deaths) later, Louis Pasteur finally came to the same conclusion, and then childbirth was transformed. Up until that time, med students learned how to perform vaginal exams on corpses (many times women who had recently died from childbed fever themselves) and would go to laboring women and perform vaginal exams on them (without even washing their hands, much less sanitizing them and wearing sterile gloves). After Pasteur’s germ theory gained acceptance, this changed, and deaths due to “childbed fever” — which had previously been attributed to different things — every doctor had his own pet theory, none of which were right — declined dramatically. But Semmelweis had it right, though he was mocked. Even though the scientific and medical establishment laughed him to scorn, he was right.

What else are the Ignatz Semmelweises of today right about, though the established “experts” refuse to believe them?

4 Responses

  1. I appreciate the attention you give to so many important topics. I have a suggestion for your blog. It is really hard on my old eyes to read all the way across the screen. Often I just don’t finish reading. If its just the way my screen is set up let me know. Otherwise I am wondering if your blog could be set up so the width of the text is narrower.



  2. thank you for touching on the many topics surrounding autism. I am one of the moms you cited in you post. My son was the child with 4 nuchal cords around his neck. It has been about a year and a half since I wrote my post. He was finally diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and ADHD. After having alot of time to reflect on his history and what the causes may have been, I can say that I believe there are many possible contributing factors. While my son survived his birth, we do not know how long he may have been deprived of oxygen. Was it 5 minutes or repeatedly for days? On my first day post partum, I was inncoulated with a MMR vaccine because I was not immune. I was reassured that it would not effect him and was instructed to breast feed as planned. He was never able to tolerate my breast milk and continued to feed poorly, vomit and have bouts with diarrhea until switched to a soy formula at 4 months. When he was 9 months, he had milk added to his diet and the vomiting and diarrhea resumed until at 20 months old, we were told in the hospital he was allergic to the protein casein in milk. He went milk free and was fine.Two things happened at this point; he was removed from milk and he was not receiving any more routine innoculations. He seemed to develop normally for a while. His doctor returned him to milk at 3 years old telling us most kids outgrow their allergy by 2 years old. While his vomiting and diarrhea did not return we did notice little things out of the ordinary. He spoke, but was not a big talker. He was clumsy and started developing a fascination with objects like trains and traffic lights. He did make eye contact, and did not engage in stimming or any other autistic typical behavior. His doctor reassured me he was fine. One thing we did notice from the time of his birth was that he seemed to have great difficulty with his shots. He always got sick after having them and his next well baby visit usually turned into a sick baby visit. We decided to only allow one shot at a time and spaced them out about 3 months apart. He always got sick. He even developed shingles after his chickenpox vaccine. By the time he was ready to enter kindergarden, he only needed his MMR and Polio. We had postponed these as long a we could hearing about the possible link between them and autism. After getting his polio, he developed a neurological tick (constant throat clearing). A month later he received his MMR and regressed significantly. He began crying incessantly, was overstimulated by noise, had two hour long tantrums, stopped making eye contact and would self injur. He did a complete 180 in his personality. He did not want me to hold or comfort him.This was the point at which we finally had him evaluated and were told he did meet the criteria for autism. I know that many parents of autistic children point to vaccines, milk/gluten issues, stomach issues, trauma during birth, etc. I have experienced all of them. I have read Jenny McCarthy’s books and found them helpful in finding a starting point in dealing with his condition. While she has never claimed to cure her son, she states she has “recovered” him much in the same way somone who has gone through a traumatic car accident has a better recovery if they utilize modalities such a surgery and physical therapy as opposed to just doing nothing. We went back to a milk free diet with significant results. Most of the severe behaviors stopped. We also did alot of testing and were told he was severely deficient in Vitamin D and many gut flora needed to balance the gut. He was placed on several supplements that have produced great results. He also tested high for mercury, aluminum and barrium, other metals known to cause neurological issues. He is 8 now and has above average intellectual functioning. He receives occupational and physical therapy for gross and fine motor issues. Since changing his diet and including supplements, his sensitivity to environmental stimuli has abated, his attention span has improved and his tics have disappeared. While I do not know what caused my son’s autism, I believe that it is multifactoral. So many big things being introduced to a tiny, still developing child with a limited immune system is, I feel, part of the big picture. Not all children are created equally. You and I may have the exact same cholesterol levels, yet our doctors prescribe different medications because not one size fits all. The same is true, I believe, with vaccines. They are medication. I would never tell another parent not to vaccinate their children, but I have suggested they space them out more if they notice their child having a reaction. It takes people many years to discover they have all kinds of medical conditions. How do we know the infant we are innoculating with vaccinces using eggs isn’s allergic to eggs? My cousin just went through that very scenario. Again, go with your gut. I don’t believe enough medical professionals trust a mom’s instincts. Many of us are made to feel like we are nuts or neurotic. We then doubt ourselves.

  3. yes, my brother that is 7 had it wrapped around once and he has autism, my older brother had it twice and has some more severe conditions i was a C-section and didn’t have it wrapped round my neck. and i dont have any conditions at the moment im 14 and my brothers were labeled at 2-5 years of age

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