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Getting an epidural doesn’t increase children’s risk of developing autism, study finds

The findings contradict another controversial study that was previously published

Photo (c) TolikoffPhotography - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Stanford Medicine explored the complications associated with women getting epidurals to ease pain during childbirth

According to their findings, epidurals are not linked with an increased risk of a child developing autism. The team explained that these shots can help women with pain relief during labor, and they shouldn’t worry about adverse complications with their infants. 

“The epidural is the gold standard in labor pain management,” said researcher Elizabeth Wall-Wieler, Ph.D. “The vast majority of evidence around epidurals, including that from our new study, shows that they are the most effective means of providing pain relief to women during labor and that serious complications are rare.” 

A safe way to relieve pain

To better understand the relationship between women who received epidurals and later autism diagnoses, the researchers analyzed data from over 123,000 children born in Manitoba, Canada. 

Overall, less than 40% of the women involved in the study received an epidural during childbirth. The researchers learned that just over 2% of the children born to women who had received an epidural were diagnosed with autism; comparatively, just under 2% of children born to women who hadn’t received an epidural during childbirth were diagnosed with autism. 

The researchers were interested in this subject because of an earlier California-based study that identified a link between epidurals and autism diagnoses. However, the researchers said that study lacked an analysis of outside factors that can impact brain development and autism. 

In this study, experts evaluated several factors that may impact autism risk. Some of them included mothers’ smoking, alcohol, and recreational drug use; fetal distress during labor; genetic influences; socioeconomic factors; and pre-pregnancy health status, among many others. After accounting for all of these measures, the findings indicated that epidurals don’t pose a significant risk to autism diagnoses. 

The researchers hope that these findings encourage women to make decisions during labor based on their individual needs without worrying about how their choices may later impact their children’s development. 

“Our study has a stronger finding because we accounted for limitations the first study had,” said researcher Dr. Alexander Butwick. “An epidural remains a well-established and effective means of providing pain relief during labor, with several benefits associated with it.” 

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