HomeautismDo Labor and Delivery Drugs Have a Connection to Learning Disabilities, SPD or Autism?

Health care is a very personal matter. The choices you make today will have an effect on you tomorrow, but choices made throughout pregnancy can have an effect not only on you, but also on your child later in life.

While various types of medications and procedures were developed to help a pregnant person through the trials of labor, their dangers aren’t always fully disclosed. Often, people giving birth are either pressured into using them or given no choice in the matter.
Unfortunately, some of the drugs given during the labor process may have a link to worsening the negative symptoms of SPD, learning disabilities and autism, due to lowering the oxygen levels in the baby’s blood early on in their life. Here’s what I found out after a little bit of research.
Epidural
The most common procedure done in the delivery room is the epidural. Many people have found it valuable in decreasing the pain of contractions, but many have also suffered from negative effects.
For those not in the know, when a pregnant person gets an epidural, medication is administered through a needle or catheter into their back. It’s then supposed to partially numb their lower body. Although it kills pain, it also weakens muscles, which can impede mobility. If not placed correctly, it can paralyze other organs, like the lungs.
Until doing more research, I’d thought that only one type of medication was administered, but I discovered that epidurals are actually mixtures of two or three pain killers, usually narcotics and opiates.
There seems to be quite a bit of misinformation out there about the drugs themselves. One myth is that they’re completely safe and another is that they don’t get passed on to the baby. Common sense rules out the first one, because no drug is completely safe in all situations. The second is ruled out with a little research.
Demerol, also known as meperidine, is one drug that’s commonly included in epidurals. It’s a synthetic narcotic in the opioid family. Because it does pass the placental barrier and has been shown to make its way into breast milk, it should be avoided during pregnancy and breast feeding.
It’s also contraindicated for relatively common conditions like asthma. This is because there have been incidences of the bronchial tubes tightening up after the dose is given, which is a ticket into the emergency operating room.
These side effects are listed as emergency room worthy in adults, but have been seen in several infants delivered when this drug was used for pain relief:
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Slowed heart beat
  • Severe drowsiness
  • Seizure
These are listed on drug inserts and you can find them all over the place on the internet.
Another common drug included in epidurals is bupivacaine.
I find this one especially scary, because the high end of recommended concentration, .75%, has been fatal. Laboring parents to be have suffered from convulsions followed by cardiac arrest when given this dosage and either extremely difficult or impossible to revive.
These are only two of the drugs commonly used as pain killers during labor, but they can either slow or stop labor completely, which leads to further medications or possible emergency cesarean sections.
They can also drop the parent’s blood pressure, which puts the baby, who is still dependant on the placenta for life, at further risk of lower blood oxygen levels. In addition, epidurals can slow or stop labor completely.
Although I had a hard time finding many studies about the connection between anesthesia during labor and LD, I did find one relatively recent study summary on PubMed.gov by the Department of Anesthesia in Mayo Clinic’s College of Medicine.
The study stated that there wasn’t a direct link between regional anesthesia and later learning disabilities in the children. However, I don’t know if it tracked things like the specific medications involved or circumstances surrounding the births, outside of anesthesia and if the kids were born vaginally or via c-section.
Regardless, I’d like to see more studies over various populations on this topic before putting my full trust in studies.
Epidurals can offer an amazing amount of help for those who need them, and if you have a good team working with you, they’re usually safe.

However, it’s still a wise idea to find out which drugs the hospital may use on you. Once you get that information, ask for information about potential side effects you and your baby might experience.

Pitocin
When the doctor wants to speed up or start labor, pitocin seems to be the go to drug.
These situations happen when the pregnancy has gone on significantly past the due date, if labor has stalled, if it’s going on for too long to be medically safe and for assorted other issues.
Pitocin is actually a synthetic version of oxytocin, which is the hormone naturally released during the process of childbirth. This particular drug encourages contractions. When they come, they’re usually longer and more intense than naturally occurring contractions because pitocin is administered in a consistent flow.
When natural labor is allowed to progress at its own rate, the body produces oxytocin in pulses. Natural contractions aren’t as long or intense as artificial contractions for this reason, and allow a little extra time for rest during labor.
The reduction of breathing room during an induced birth can result in lowered oxygen levels, and often results in added fetal stress.
Although pitocin is intended to speed up labor, the excess pain it creates may necessitate an epidural, which can then slow labor down again. This turns into a horrible cycle of medication, artificially extended labor and may eventually result in an emergency c-section.
Again, I had a very hard time finding any studies about pitocin and its relationship to LD or autism. I did find a 2003 study in which 41 boys with autism were compared to 25 boys in similar situations. This study found no correlation, but again, the sample is extremely small and localized to a specific area.
Despite the fact pitocin is FDA approved and may be necessary in some situations, it still poses very real dangers in how it’s used today. Many who’ve shared their birthing stories have stated they weren’t given a choice in being induced, and there are entirely too many were forced to endure nightmarish experiences that may have been avoided.
Disturbingly enough, pitocin isn’t approved for elective induction of a healthy pregnancy. However, that’s just what it’s used for in many cases. It’s supposed to only be used when delivery is required for medical reasons.
There’s also a warning on the pitocin package insert noting the possibility of permanent central nervous system and brain damage.
Naloxone
Once the baby is born, the danger from these drugs isn’t gone. Because many epidural medications cross the placental barrier, the baby feels the effects of them as well. Their effects manifest as breathing difficulties, sedation, and various forms of neurological distress.
The drug most commonly used to counter those effects is something called Naloxone. This drug is used expressly to counter the effects of opiate overdose, and is administered in tiny doses for babies.
However, a 2012 review by the University of York stated that administration of the drug doesn’t reduce need for respiratory assistance or admittance into neonatal care for babies suffering from adverse reactions to exposure to the drugs in an epidural. Whether that’s a question of procedure, or if the drug has less effect than intended, I don’t know.
Although somewhat rare, there are still side effects possible from Naloxone. Those include:
  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Low blood pressure
  • Accelerated heart beat
It should also be noted that it’s recommended to only administer this drug to infants showing symptoms of respiratory or neurological distress, but some doctors administer it as part of the routine birthing process.
In the end, which drugs you choose to use to help your delivery, if any, is your choice. However, some medical professionals will try pressuring you into accepting them for assorted reasons. There are way too many stories out there of labor being induced for the doctor’s convenience or other social reasons.
It’s one thing to say that I don’t know for sure if any of these drugs actually cause or enhance LD, autism or SPD, but it’s quite another to know that there’s very little information out there about the connection. Informed choices get very hard to make when you can’t get the info you need to be truly informed.
It is worth noting, however, that all of these medications, and others I didn’t mention, have  the potential other, non-neurological side effects, as well. As beautiful and life changing as birth can be, it’s vital to remember it’s still a very important health issue with deep spiritual, social and political connections.
It can be hard keeping a clear head when inundated with all of the influences associated with bringing a life into the world, it’s important to remember the more preparation and good research you do, the more likely a healthy outcome will occur.

Sources:
Countless conversations with mothers I know personally
The Business of Being Born (I love this documentary and the follow up series. This documentary is sort of what got be going on this entry. Will have to check the documentary on breast milk out one of these days.)
Drugs in Labour: What Effects Do They Have 20 Years Hence?
Using Narcotics for Pain Relief During Childbirth
Naloxone for opiate-exposed newborn infants
Drugs & Medications – Narcan Neonatal lnj
Stadol as pain relief during labor
Epidural Anesthesia
Meperidine
Neuraxial labor analgesia for vaginal delivery and its effects on childhood learning disabilities
Brief report: pitocin induction in autistic and nonautistic individuals.
Pitocin

On a side note, I hope this entry didn’t come off as being too impersonal.

I was trying to be as gender inclusive as possible, so I tried not to use many gender specific pronouns. Although the vast majority of people who give birth are cis women, trans men and those who identify as another gender also deserve to be included in these conversations.

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