Study: Autism More Common With Low Birth Weight
Low-birth-weight babies are five times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than are normal-weight babies, a new study suggests. Researchers spent 21 years tracking 1,105 infants who weighed less than 4 pounds, 7 ounces at birth. Five percent of them developed autism by their 21st birthday, whereas just 1 percent of children in the general population do, according to a study published today in Pediatrics. Past research has linked low birth weight to an increased risk of cognitive and motor disabilities. But the study authors don't yet understand how low birth weight influences autism risk. "The number of children with a diagnosis of autism is on the rise and [we] haven't been able to explain why," lead author Jennifer Pinto-Martin, the director of the Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, told Health.com. "It's partly a function of awareness and better diagnosis, but we do a better job of keeping tiny babies alive and this may be one consequence of that."
How to Have a Happier, Healthier, Smarter Baby
Pregnant women have tweaked their diets, tried prenatal education tricks, and attempted whatever else baby books and doctors have recommended—all in the quest to have happier, healthier, and perhaps even smarter babies. Mothers-to-be have latched onto fish oil, to cite one example, because of studies crediting omega-3 fatty acids with brighter babies and a lower risk of postpartum depression, U.S. News reported in 2010.
Recent research suggests none of the above. A study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association of more than 2,000 pregnant women who took either fish oil or vegetable oil capsules found no benefit to cognitive or language skills of babies born to fish oil-taking mothers. (Nor did fish oil seem to alleviate their postpartum depression.)
So what can women do to enhance their babies' prenatal experiences and give them a leg-up when they enter the world? In her book Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, journalist Annie Murphy Paul explores the burgeoning field of fetal origins, which examines how the conditions we encounter before birth influence us down the line. U.S. News spoke with Paul, who shared her insight on which prenatal behaviors withstand scientific scrutiny—and which are shaky at best. [Read more: How to Have a Happier, Healthier, Smarter Baby.]
- How to Avoid Excess Weight Gain During Pregnancy
- Eating Fish During Pregnancy: What's the Right Approach?
Pregnant or Thinking About It? 10 Prenatal Tips
From conception to delivery, a fetus is at the mercy of its environment. A mother-to-be has more control over her internal chemistry than she might think, and her odds of having a healthy baby will be much improved if she follows these tips, U.S. News reported in 2008.
1. Take steps even before you're pregnant. If there's a chance you'll conceive, take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily to guard against preventable birth defects such as spina bifida. Also ask your doctor about getting vaccinations against chickenpox and rubella before you try to get pregnant. These and a few other "live" vaccines cannot be given to pregnant women, but if contracted during pregnancy the illnesses can cause birth defects.
2. Don't delay an OB visit. Early blood tests can catch anemia and infections that can affect the fetus if not dealt with quickly. Plus, congenital problems such as fetal heart abnormalities often can be detected and addressed during pregnancy.
3. Write down all meds. Your doctor should review your drugs, vitamins, and supplements. Some of them, such as certain antidepression and seizure medications, can harm your baby's heart and increase your risk of miscarriage.
4. Don't drink. Binge drinking is particularly dangerous to the fetus; known risks include miscarriage, stillbirth, and mental retardation. It may cause facial deformities such as cleft lip and cleft palate. [Read more: Pregnant or Thinking About It? 10 Prenatal Tips.]
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