July 18, 2011
Natalie Meirowitz, MD
A study recently performed by researchers at Stanford University found that environmental factors could be a possible cause of autism. The study, which was published recently in Archives of General Psychiatry, defined “environmental” factors as anything unrelated to genetic code. These factors could include advanced maternal or paternal age, assisted reproductive technology, artificial insemination and giving birth to multiples.
Another environmental factor that could cause an even greater risk of autism is the intake of antidepressants during pregnancy. The risk was three times higher if mothers took medication during early pregnancy, compared to children without the developmental disorder.
But even though taking antidepressants during pregnancy could harm the baby, going off the antidepressants could harm the baby as well as the mother in many ways. It may not be the best choice for mothers to go off their medication when pregnant. If they do, they may self-medicate in other ways such as using drugs and alcohol, failing to eat right and failing to keep their prenatal appointments.
The decision to stop medications must be carefully considered between the patient, her psychiatrist, obstetrician and significant other. Even though the cause of autism may not be directly related to such environmental factors, this issue should not be taken lightly.