Every parent knows there are multiple risk factors for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). The specific causes have not been determined. Reviews have been performed and the following patterns have been found to be associated with an increased risk for autism: advanced maternal age, maternal prenatal medication use, gestational diabetes, being the first-born vs. the third child or later and having a mother born abroad are all associated with an increased risk for autism.
Recent reports support metabolic conditions in women being associated with an increased risk of that mother having a child diagnosed as having an ASD. The primary metabolic conditions are diabetes, hypertension and obesity. Not only are these women at greater risk for having a child with an ASD but also having a child with developmental delays without autism. Obese mothers are 1.6 times more likely to have a child with an ASD and twice as likely to have a child with developmental delay.
It is unclear what role these conditions play and whether it may be similar to other non-specific risk factors like prematurity and birth complications. There appears to be an association especially when the obesity risk factor was included but causality was not suggested or proven. Research on the causes of ASDs is ongoing but answers will come slowly. If you have any of the above conditions it is important to address your concerns with your doctor. By opening a two way conversation you will be better able to deal with any fears these reports cause and help you begin a successful collaborative treatment program. Certainly, this information may encourage women to address weight issues and that is helpful for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy newborn.
Maternal health is important not just for the increased risk of having a child with an ASD. It is vital that maternal self-care be integrated into the life of every mother. Each mother must take care of her own needs first if she is to have the best opportunity to be able to take care of the needs of her child when issues arise.