You are probably thrilled to have conceived, and can’t wait to see your beautiful baby in your arms. For some, however, thinking beyond the end of the ‘bump’ phase can be both exciting and scary.
Prenatal classes try to prepare you for birth, but there is little that prepares you for what happens after your baby has been born. It is worth making the most of your time before having the baby reading up, especially if you feel your unborn child may be at risk of developmental disorders (please see our blog on risk factors). The reality is, that if your child does have a developmental disability, taking action from the outset, (based on knowledge you have acquired during pregnancy) will make a huge difference to their long term outcomes.
If they don’t have a disability, your intervention will help them advance even faster than they would have.
The truth is, no one knows what causes Autism. There is a strong genetic factor, but the fact that Autism is increasing suggests there are environmental factors playing a part too.
The lay advice that a lot of 'prevent autism' sites give is to exclude things that did not exist when we were cavemen or hunter gatherers. (http://www.prevent-autism.org/):
However, this advice is not based on scientific journals. The current National Health Service (NHS) advice suggests that childhood injections have no correlation with Autism, nor inflammatory colitis, neither does inflammatory colitis have a particular link to Autsim. This is based on a study looking at 255 children who had received the MMR (Baird et al., 2008). There is some link between flu antibodies in pregnancy and development of schizophrenia in later life (Boksa, 2008), there is also now evidence in a minority of women that flu in pregnancy may increase the risks of Autism. Atladottir & Henriksen (2012) report: “Overall, we found little evidence that various types of mild common infectious diseases or febrile episodes during pregnancy were associated with ASD/infantile autism. However, our data suggest that maternal influenza infection was associated with a twofold increased risk of infantile autism, prolonged episodes of fever caused a threefold increased risk of infantile autism”. It is unknown whet her it is the fever or the antibodies in flu that may increase the risk for Autism, it may be advisable to have the flu injection before you conceive. Research to date has only linked damage to fetal brains with the flu virus itself, not the flu injection.
There are many health benefits to breast feeding, and it is advisable to do so if you can, but breast feeding is not known to prevent Autism, or change future child behaviour in any way, according to a very large random control trial (Kramer et al., 2008).
If you are going to exclude cow’s milk or gluten from your child’s diet you should do so because it improves gastrointestinal symptoms, there has been no good evidence to prove a link to Autism. There is however a proposed dietary link, between diet and ADHD symptoms, and recommendations that the Omega 3 supplement is the latest dietary treatment with positive reports of efficacy (Millichap, 2011).
If you can afford to eat healthy, organic food while you are pregnant, this makes sense, however there is no research at present to suggest a link between pesticides and Autism. There are links between pesticides and cancer and on-going research is being conducted in to the harmful effect of pesticides on developing children, along with many other chemicals such as flame retardants and certain plastics (National Institute of environmental health sciences: Children's health). It is important not to spend too much time trying to shield your child from every chemical in the environment; just do sensible things, such as eat organic, hoover dust regularly and seal up all your cupboards containing harmful chemicals.
Antibiotics, in general, have recently been implicated as a contributor to birth defects (Krista et al., 2009). Atladottir & Henriksen (2012) report: “use of various antibiotics during pregnancy were potential risk factors for ASD/infantile autism”. It is best to ask your doctor if he or she is sure it is a bacterial infection that your body cannot fight off itself. If it is a serious bacterial infection, there is more risk to you and your baby if you do not take antibiotics. Make sure you are familiar with the research on the antibiotic you are prescribed. Penicillin is considered among the safest, only rarely causing complications. Go to www.cdc.gov/getsmart for more information on avoiding taking antibiotics unnecessarily.
The only definite advice for avoiding Autism risks during pregnancy is: don’t take drugs, don’t drink, ensure you are getting treatment if you have celiac disease or Phenylketonuria, make sure you only take doctor-approved drugs during pregnancy, and make sure you are up to date with your Rubella shot before you get pregnant (Parker, 2005).