Study finds no link between epidural use at birth and autism

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CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — A new study finds there is no link between epidurals in childbirth and an increased risk for autism.

The research, published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association pediatrics, helps resolve questions raised by an earlier study, suggesting there was an increased risk.

Epidurals are the most common form of pain relief for women during childbirth used by three quarters of women in the United States.

“The new research examined epidural use during childbirth and later diagnoses of autism in Manitoba, Canada. It included 123,175 children who were born between 2005 and 2016 and were followed until 2019,” explained a press release announcing the study’s findings.

The research team was able to access information that linked individuals’ medical records along with socioeconomic information and child development. 

NewsNation spoke with one of the lead authors of the new research who called that previous study limited and flawed.

“And after accounting for all that information, we were not able to find an association between a mother receiving an epidural for pain relief in labor and a child being at increased risk for autism spectrum disorder,” said Stanford University Professor Alex James Butwick.

There are some risks and side effects for women that happen in about 1% of cases. Those side effects can include headaches, infection, bleeding and liver damage.

The professor says the benefits outweigh the rare risks, but emphasized that expectant mothers should speak with their doctor about getting one during labor.

“An epidural is certainly an effective form of pain relief in labor and it also has a lot of unappreciated benefits,” added Butwick.

He noted that it can be useful for high risk pregnancies or if a mother needs to switch to a C-section delivery during the labor process.

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