Taking prenatal vitamins in pregnancy could reduce a woman’s risk of having a child with autism

Pregnant women who take prenatal vitamins are half as likely to have children with autism, study claims

  • Researchers studied pregnant women who already had a child diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder
  • Mothers who took prenatal vitamins during the first month of pregnancy had an autism prevalence of about 14% 
  • Women who didn’t take vitamins in the first month had a prevalence of 33%

Taking prenatal vitamins during pregnancy could reduce a woman’s risk of having a child with autism, a new study finds. 

Women who already have a child diagnosed with the developmental disorder have a higher risk of any future children having the same diagnosis.

But researchers found that mothers who took prenatal vitamins during their first month of pregnancy slashed their younger children’s risk of having autism by more than half. 

The team, from the University of California, Davis, says its findings are the first to show that genetic susceptibility for developing autism may be avoided by taking prenatal pills.

A new study has found that not taking prenatal vitamins during pregnancy could double the risk of autism in children from high-risk families (file image)

Approximately one in 68 children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which includes autism as well as Asperger syndrome and other developmental disorders, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It is more often diagnosed in boys than in girls by about five times.

People with autism often have problems with social, emotional and communication skills. They might repeat certain behaviors and might not want change in their daily activities.

A September 2011 study found that the recurrence risk of ASDs is believed to be between three and 10 percent.

For the new study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, the team recruited participants from the Markers of Autism Risk in Babies: Learning Early Signs (MARBLES) study.

MARBLES, run by UC Davis, looks at prenatal and postpartum biological and environmental factors that may lead to autism.

Researchers evaluated more than 240 mothers who already had a child with an ASD.

Their younger children were born between 2006 and 2015 and were tested for autism before their third birthday.

About 96 percent of the women said they took prenatal vitamins throughout their pregnancies.

However, just 36 percent began during the recommended period – six months before conception. 

The prevalence of autism among mothers who took prenatal vitamins during the first month of pregnancy was about 14 percent.

It more than doubled when it came to children whose mothers didn’t take vitamins in the first month at nearly 33 percent.

Although the team is not sure why prenatal vitamins were found to lower the risk, it believes nutrients found in the pills – such as folic acid and iron – may play a role.   

‘We don’t know for sure what nutrients make the difference,’ lead author Dr Rebecca Schmidt, an assistant professor of public health sciences at the UC Davis MIND, told HealthDay.

‘We do know that folic acid is really important for neural tube closure and that it plays a role in oxidative stress and mitochondrial function – a lot of important things.’

The authors say that the study did not look at whether one type of vitamin was better than another for lowering autism risk. 

Dr Schmidt told HealthDay that the vitamins are likely not solely responsible for lowering the risk, but ‘a prenatal vitamin might mitigate some of the risk that’s already there’.

She added: ‘Women who are planning to have more kids, or if it’s possible they might get pregnant, should talk to their doctor about getting a prescription for a prenatal vitamin.’ 

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