Clinical research: Maternal stress doesn't trigger autism
Experiencing a stressful event, such as the death of a family member or a severe illness, during pregnancy does not increase the risk of having a child with autism, according to an epidemiological study published 13 June in PLoS One1.
The results contradict previous findings suggesting that maternal stress is a risk factor for autism.
In the new study, researchers used data from two large epidemiological groups: the Stockholm Youth Cohort (SYC), which includes 589,114 children from 0 to 17 years, and the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), which follows the children of 14,541 women in Bristol, England, born from April 1991 to December 1992.
The mothers of the 4,429 children with autism from the SYC were no more likely than controls to have experienced a stressful event during pregnancy such as the death of a friend or family member, a serious accident or injury, or the diagnosis of a serious illness, the study found.
Likewise, the 72 mothers of children with autism in ALSPAC were no more likely than 11,554 others to self-report events — such as moving, losing a job or being physically or emotionally abused by a partner — that significantly affected them.
A slight association between stress and having a child with autism might need an even larger study size to become apparent, the researchers say. It is also possible that chronic stress over a long time may have a larger effect than the types of acute stress investigated in the study.
1: Rai D. et al. PLoS One 7, e38893 (2012) PubMed
2: Kinney D.K. et al. J. Autism Dev. Disord. 38, 481-488 (2008) PubMed
3: Beversdorf D.Q. et al. J. Autism Dev. Disord. 35, 471-478 (2005) PubMed