Inducing Labor with Pitocin: New Study Links Pitocin and Autism

Boy with Autism Obsessively Stacking CansWay back before my husband and I conceived our daughter, I started questioning the safety of pitocin. On July 7, 2010, I wrote the following post for my original blog, Librarian Mom – My Reference Book on Parenting:

Inducing labor with pitocin is an all too common medical intervention during pregnancy and labor nowadays. I am very much against the routine use of pitocin and other interventions to start or jumpstart a labor. One of the major problems that I have with current obstetrical care is the interventive, not supportive, attitude of many health care professionals. The misguided thinking that the female body is somehow not capable of carrying a pregnancy to term and then successfully giving birth to a baby at the appropriate time for both the mother and the baby is preposterous. Pregnancy is not a medical condition that requires medical intervention. Inducing labor with pitocin is both unnatural and usually unnecessary.

In addition to my aversion to inducing labor with pitocin because of my educated knowledge that pregnancy and labor are natural physiological processes of the female body, I am also concerned about the increasing use of pitocin because of a largely unstudied link between pitocin and autism. As I have previously written, a large part of my preconception planning involves reading as much about preconception, conception, pregnancy, labor, birth, breastfeeding, and parenting that I can get my book-hungry little hands on. Because of my feelings towards the naturalness of pregnancy and birth, most of the books I read reflect my views (although some are more pro-interventive for the sake of balanced research). While reading about the risks and benefits of inducing labor with pitocin, I came across a disturbing question: Is there a link between pitocin and autism?

The good little librarian mom-to-be that I am, I decided to do some research on the question of inducing labor with pitocin and a possible link between pitocin and autism. With the help of a more knowledgeable health sciences librarian, I found the article “Brief Report: Pitocin Induction in Autistic and Nonautistic Individuals” by Susan Gale, Sally Ozonoff, and Janet Lainhart from the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Although a handful of other studies on inducing labor with pitocin found a correlation between pitocin and autism, this particular study agreed with many other studies that found no differences in induction rates of children with and without autism. So, although the long-term effects of inducing labor with pitocin have not yet been studied fully, initial findings point to no connection between pitocin and autism.

However, a handful of studies of inducing labor with pitocin are not conclusive, especially since some studies found a link while others did not. Even without a link between pitocin and autism, I still firmly believe in letting nature take its course. If inducing labor with pitocin were actually necessary, then the human species would have died off long ago. Furthermore, the above study points out that a link between pitocin and autism may be due to higher induction rates among babies predisposed to autism. I firmly believe that reducing the use of pitocin to induce labor should be tried if only to see if babies as risk who are unceremoniously yanked into this world do have reduced rates of future autism diagnoses. By decreasing the unnatural and unnecessary use of inducing labor with pitocin, labor will certainly be better for mothers and life possibly better for babies.

Although my research over three years ago found an inconclusive link between pitocin and autism, a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics concludes that induction and augmentation with pitocin does increase the risk of autism.

At present, one in 88 children in the United States is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. To determine whether the use of pitocin during labor increased the risk for autism, researchers from the Duke University Medical Center compared data from 625,042 live births with school records, including more than 5,500 children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. The data were taken from the North Carolina Detailed Birth Record database and the Education Research database.

When comparing children born to mothers who had received pitocin before or during labor to children born to mothers who had not received pitocin and after controlling for other mitigating factors, the researchers discovered that children of induced and/or augmented births had increased levels of autism diagnoses. Boys, especially, faired worse from pitocin exposure before and/or during labor.

Although further research on the autism-pitocin link is necessary, as the researchers indicate, the results of the Duke University Medical Center indicate that pitocin is not as safe as initially thought. Augmenting or inducing labor with pitocin appears to increase the risk of autism.


Association of Autism With Induced or Augmented Childbirth in North Carolina Birth Record (1990-1998) and Education Research (1997-2007) Databases:

Image Credits

Boy with Autism Obsessively Stacking Cans:

Heather Johnson

Heather Johnson is a mother, wife, writer, librarian, and linguist. She earned a BA in English studies with a minor in creative writing from Illinois State University in May 2007, an MS in library and information science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in May 2009, and an MS in English studies with an emphasis in linguistics at Illinois State University in December 2011.

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