Children whose mothers had severe form of a morning sickness during pregnancy are 53 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to new research published in the American Journal of Perinatology.
“This study is important because it suggests that children born to women with hyperemesis may be at an increased risk of autism,” said lead study author Darios Getahun, MD, PhD, of Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research and Evaluation. “Awareness of this association may create the opportunity for earlier diagnosis and intervention in children at risk of autism.”
Hyperemesis gravidarum occurs in less than 5 per cent of pregnancies. Affected women experience intense nausea and are unable to keep down food and fluids. This can lead to dangerous dehydration and inadequate nutrition during pregnancy.
To determine the extent of the association between hyperemesis gravidarum (or so-called morning sickness) and autism spectrum disorder, researchers reviewed electronic health records of nearly 500,000 pregnant women and their children born between 1991 and 2014 at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California in the US. They compared children whose mothers had a diagnosis of hyperemesis gravidarum during pregnancy to those whose mothers did not.
The results are consistent with the hypothesis that women experiencing morning sickness have poor nutritional intake, which may, in turn lead to potential long-term neurodevelopment impairment in their children. The study cannot, however, rule out other possible explanations, such as perinatal exposures to some medications and maternal smoking.