Preventing Autism in Pregnancy: Is it Possible?

Avoid Toxic Chemicals

There seems to be an increased risk for ASD associated with maternal exposure to certain chemicals during pregnancy, thought a lot more research needs to be done. For instance, one recent study found environmental exposures associated with autism, specifically “traffic-related pollutants, some metals, and several pesticides and phthalates.” It can get confusing to figure out exactly which chemicals, such as those found in flame-retardants, plastics, and even cosmetics, to avoid. Talk to your doctor about what’s right for you—you might want to limit your intake of canned foods, avoid water bottles made of plastic or aluminum, and stay away from personal care products that list “fragrance” as an ingredient.

Check Your Meds

Researchers have found potential links between the medication a mother takes while pregnant and autism risk. For instance, use of anti-depressants (SSRIs specifically) has shown association with autism across multiple studies, says Dr. Fallin, though it remains unclear whether this link is related specifically to the drugs or to the mother’s depression itself. Also, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association has shown that valproate, a medication used to treat epilepsy and other neurological disorders, can increase the risk for autism. It’s crucial that you work with your doctor to determine whether the benefits of any medications you take outweigh the risks. In many cases, they will: “If a mother has epilepsy, it is very important that it be controlled during pregnancy, even if that requires valproate,” explains Dr. Wang. “If the mother has a seizure while pregnant, that is potentially a much bigger risk to the fetus than the drug that controls her seizures.”

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