Giving birth to a child via c-section may increase the risk that the child will have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism, according to the findings of new research.
A large review of more than 60 studies indicates a child’s risk of having autism spectrum disorder increased by 33% if they were delivered by cesarean section compared to a vaginal birth. The findings were published last week in the medical journal JAMA Network Open.
Autism spectrum disorders are a group of neurodevelopment disorders that affect communication and behavior. Autism is characterized by various symptoms, such as repetitive movements, delayed speech, and difficulty socializing. ADHD is a brain disorder that affects daily function and is marked by varying combination of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
Swedish researchers reviewed 61 studies, including more than 20 million infant deliveries in 19 different countries. They compared children born through vaginal birth and those born via c-section.
According to the findings, having a c-section was associated with a 33% increase risk that the child would be on the autism spectrum. Having a c-section instead of a vaginal birth was also linked to a 17% increased risk that the child would receive an ADHD diagnosis.
The estimates for intellectual disabilities, obsessive-compulsive disorder, tic disorders, and eating disorders were less precise, and no link between the method of birth was linked to the incidence of any other conditions. There were also no significant associations found with depression/affective psychoses or noneffective psychoses.
Birth by c-section is increasing globally, including those that are not medically necessary. Other studies have shown children born via c-section have increased risk of negative health outcomes, but the evidence for psychiatric disorders is incomplete.
The ideal c-section rate in a population is 10-15% researchers say. However, the c-section rate in the U.S. reached 32% in 2017 after steady increases over the past few decades.
Researchers emphasize the findings of the study don’t prove that c-sections cause psychiatric disorders. The study simply indicates a link.
Studies have shown women who are older, obese, and have a history of immune conditions are more likely to have a child with autism. It may be the case these conditions predispose a woman to needing a c-section.
Further research is needed to find out why there is a link between c-sections and autism and ADHD, they warned. Nevertheless, the researchers said this study and future studies should help examine possible unintended long term consequences of c-sections and help reduce unnecessary use of the procedure.