New research suggests that modest weight gain during pregnancy might be a sign for autism among newborns. Investigators stress that it is not weight gain itself that is the cause of autism nor do the current findings reflect in any way on how pre-pregnancy weight might affect the future offspring of mothers. Rather the study suggests that a small rise in weight gain during pregnancy might be an indication that some broad and complex process, perhaps involving hormones and inflammation irregularities, is underway of which weight gain is a reflection. If so, weight gain during pregnancy might serve as an easily recognizable marker for a constellation of events that collectively increase the risk for autism.
The study lead author, Dr. Deborah Bilder, a pediatrician and assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City states “Although weight gain during pregnancy was associated with autism risk, the modest difference in weight gain found suggest that weight gain serves as a marker rather than a cause for autism. As a marker, it would share an underlying cause with autism, such as hormone imbalance or inflammation”, Bilder added.
Autism spectrum disorders are neurodevelopment disabilities that can range from mild to more severe. Children with autism display social problems, communication difficulties, and restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior.
For their study, the team focused on two groups of children with autism in Utah. The first group included 128 children, while the second included 288 children. Maternal weight-gain patterns were analysed in both groups. The first group results were stacked up against those of nearly 11,000 mothers of healthy children of a similar age and gender. The second group’s results were compared against maternal weight gains leading up to the birth of each autistic child’s healthy siblings.
The study found that here was an average difference of only about pounds in weight gain when comparing mothers of children with and without autism.
Bilder reiterated that when it comes to autism risk, weight gain during pregnancy should not be seen as the culprit but rather the canary in the coal mine. She cautioned against any dietary changes based on the findings. Good nutrition is essential to healthy pregnancy she added.
Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of development and behavioural pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Centre of New York, in New Hyde Park, said that unlike previous research, the current investigation shines light on the risk associated with weight gain during pregnancy, rather than before pregnancy. The fact that there is a modestly increased risk of autism in pregnancies associated with extra weight gain provides pregnant women with one more reason to be mindful of their weight gain during pregnancy, he said.
Adesman concluded that although it is unclear why there is an increased incidence of autism born to mothers who gained more weight during their pregnancy, hopefully his study will provide yet another clue to researchers in their quest to better understand what causes autism.