Autism-Birth Induction Link: Correlation or Causation?

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Autism-Birth Induction Link Proves Need for Natural Birth

A new study linking birth induction to autism is rippling through the mainstream press, generating titles such as Bloomberg's "Autism Risk May Be Raised for Children When Labor Induced, CBS News' "Induced labor may increase risk of autism in offspring,  and WebMD's "Induced Labor Linked to Raised Risk of Autism."

One common feature of these headlines is the use of the language of risk, a characteristically fatalistic and superficial way of talking and thinking about life-and-death matters, one far more appropriate to the business of insurance adjusting or financial planning, than helping people understand the real world implications of the research being reported on. Calculating disease risk, of course, is an essentially passive activity vis-à-vis a perceived inevitability, e.g. the 'autism epidemic,' whose presumably idiopathic nature is not to be explored in any depth, but assumed as pressing down upon us from some point in the future whose exact position is unknown but can be approximated statistically.

Truth be told, it doesn't require a JAMA Pediatrics published study, or a license in obstetrics, to clearly see there is something terribly wrong with the way we are bringing our next generation into the world. There are obvious cause-effect dynamics at play between the accelerating autism 'epidemic' and the alarmingly high rates of medically unnecessary and/or elective Caesarian section (23% or higher), and the cocktail of inadequately tested and understood medications that go with these major surgical interventions, such as the synthetic hormone oxytoxcin, prostaglandin analogs, intrapartum antibiotics and epidural analgesia to name but a few. Follow up this epigenetically disfiguring chemistry experiment, with the now routine hepatitis B antigen injection (for what is essentially a non-vaccine preventable STD transmitted via blood or semen), and you have a recipe for disaster, leaving us unsurprised by this recent academic verification of a cause-effect connection; to the contrary, the mystery is why a far higher percentage of our newborns do not end up becoming psychosocially disabled later in life, given what they are up against before, during and immediately after being born.

So, what does the lead author of the study have to say about the implications of the largest study performed to date showing over the course of 8 years and within a population of over 625,000 children that birth induction/augmentation increases autism risk by up to 35%? That man, Simon Gregory, an associate professor of medicine and medical genetics at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, said in a Bloomberg interview:

"The study shows there is an elevated risk around augmentation and induction, however we haven't found cause and effect," Gregory, an associate professor of medicine and medical genetics at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, said in a telephone interview. "The results don't dictate there be any change in any clinical practices surrounding birth. The dangers to the mothers and the infants by not inducting or augmenting far outweigh the elevated risk for development of autism."

You can find a smoking gun lying next to a bullet-pierced, blood-drenched dead body, but the 'cautious,' 'scholarly' approach is to not let commonsense perception get in the way of the extensive forensics work required to determine with exactitude that these two phenomena are not merely chance correlations but connected via cause-and-effect. When it comes to the practice of modern obstetrics, the drugs, the forceps, the surgical procedures are considered innocent until proven guilty. A reckless, arrogant and outright unethical approach to health care, if you ask me; one that flies in the face of, or makes an outright mockery, of the precautionary principle.

After being responsible for uncovering an extremely important medical finding, Mr. Gregory won't recommend the obvious solution: that we reduce our reliance on what I would call Biomedical birth, returning whenever possible to the type of birthing that women have done since time immemorial, unassisted by an obstetrician, guided by a midwife and/or doula, allowing the ancient wisdom of her uterus, her body, her ancestors' experiences contained as somatic memory to articulate a miracle as beautiful and natural as any the universe has to offer human experience. It would have been truly groundbreaking for Mr. Gregory to allow the experiences of the over 625,000 children he studied, many of whom experienced irreparable damage and inconceivable psychospiritual suffering as a result of their injuries, to inform and reform medical practice. But instead he recommends we do nothing.

Sadly, the same economic and political forces that drive folks like Mr. Gregory into positions of great prestige and power where their perspectives on the topics of birth and autism actually count, also continue to drive women and their fetuses into hospitals to be induced unnecessarily.  In the meantime, the standard of care that Mr. Gregory concludes should remain unchanged is clearly contributing to the accelerating epidemic of neurobiological injuries that we call autism spectrum disorder in order to gloss over the horrific iatrogenic truth.

The reality is that even when there is extensive epidemiological research to show a link between autism and the unnatural way we birth our infants, it will not be compelling enough to change the way modern obstetrics is practiced. There will always be the claim that no cause-effect relationship was proven, which is always technically true, since within the epistemological model of 'evidence-based' medicine only the double-blinded, randomized and placebo-controlled, preferably multi-centered human clinical trial secretes the precious nectar of ultimate truth (a truth, simply not affordable and afforded to the vast majority of stakeholders).

Fortunately, the type of research needed to explain how birth induction/augmentation and associated medical interventions contribute to autism spectrum disorder has already been pieced together, and is known as the Epigenetic Impact of Childbirth (EPIIC) hypothesis:    

 "The EPIIC hypothesis indicates that physiological labor and birth have evolved to exert eustress (a healthy positive form of stress) on the fetus, and that this process has an epigenomic effect on particular genes, particularly those that program immune responses, genes responsible for weight regulation, and specific tumor-suppressor genes. Reduced or elevated levels of cortisol, adrenalin, and oxytocin produced during labor may lead to fetal epigenomic remodeling anomalies which exert influence on abnormal gene expression. This reprogramming could manifest in a range of non-communicative diseases and biobehavioral problems in the neonate and adulthood. This suggests that physiology of labor and birth may be crucial to epigenetic remodeling, specifically between fetal and extrauterine life."

A recent paper on the topic, titled "The EPIIC hypothesis: intrapartum effects on the neonatal epigenome and consequent health outcomes," strikes to the heart of why we are now seeing epidemiological confirmation of a birth induction/augmentation-autism link.

According to the article, routine labor management within the hospital setting involves the following problematic interventions:

  • Pharmacological pain relief (epidural analgesia)
  • Synthetic oxytocin agents (Pitocin) for induction and augmentation of labor
  • Prophylactic antibiotics
  • Active management of the third stage (period from birth of baby until delivery of placenta and membranes) of labor
  • Separation of the infant from mother immediately following birth.
  • Cesarean section

Please read the entire review for details on how each intervention during the intrapartum period (labor and birth) can lead to reprogramming the developmental and health trajectories of the infant through a process known as epigenetic remodeling.  The authors clarify this point further here:

"Although the intrapartum period is relatively short compared to the complete perinatal period, there is emerging evidence that this time frame may be a critical formative phase for the human genome. We hypothesize that events during the intrapartum period - specifically the use of synthetic oxytocin, antibiotics, and cesarean section - affect the epigenetic remodeling processes and subsequent health of the mother and offspring. The rationale for this hypothesis is based on recent evidence and current best practice.

Indeed, the type of birth one experiences directly affects the expression of the DNA within our body, as evidenced by a 2009 study comparing the epigenetic modulation of white blood cells between C-section and vaginally born infants.[1] There is increasing interest in the implications that the birth experience has in programming future behavior.[2] The EPIIC review details extensively how medical intervention into the birth experience may contribute to altering the oxytocin system within the infant, reprogramming induced infants to either be resistant to, or have inadequate levels of, oxytocin, the social/intimacy neuropeptide that has been found depleted in autism spectrum disorder and has been extensively researched for this reason as a future therapeutic medication. (A case of using a major cause of the problem as a cure?).

Since time immemorial, being human was synonymous with being born through your mother, naturally. While there were herbs, and interventions that some might now retrospectively call "medical," nothing like what exists today in the modern hospital setting compares to the way the human body, and the mammalian architecture itself upon which it was built over millions of years, has enabled the body to be born, virtually or actually unassisted. The miracle is not that we have a epidemic of autism spectrum disorders, or that that epidemic is accelerating at a pace that will virtually engulf our species' viability into the future, rather, the miracle is that more do not succumb to irreparable harm due to the countless diagnostic, drug-based, surgical, vaccine-related and nutritional exposures that accompany modern birth and infant-hood. Do we need to wait for folks like Mr. Gregory to give us permission to know what is clear as day before us? When do we start the real work of deconstructing the myths associated with modern birth, pregnancy and infant care, and return to the ancient ways, whose unplumable wisdom are solely responsible for getting us through untold trial and tribulations into our present incarnation.  

[1] T Schlinzig, S Johansson, A Gunnar, T J Ekström, M Norman. Epigenetic modulation at birth - altered DNA-methylation in white blood cells after Caesarean section. Acta Paediatr. 2009 Jul ;98(7):1096-9. PMID: 19638013

[2] Matthew J Hyde, Alison Mostyn, Neena Modi, Paul R Kemp. The health implications of birth by Caesarean section. Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 2012 Feb ;87(1):229-43. Epub 2011 Aug 5. PMID: 21815988


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