A new study finds induced labor may be linked to an increased risk of autism, but doctors warn that more research is needed. The study of 625,000 children found that, overall, 13 out of every 1,000 boys and four out of every 1,000 girls developed autism. But, for boys, that rate was one-third higher when their mothers saw their labor induced or augmented, the BBC reports. (The effect was not as pronounced in female births.) LiveScience reports that such augmentations might include strengthening contractions with hormone treatments; it says the risk of autism was 13% higher when labor was induced, 16% higher when it was augmented, and 35% higher (in male births) when it was both induced and augmented.
The study did account for other factors (mother's age, diabetes, pre-term labor) that could have affected the autism rate, but researchers say there could be still other factors that underlie both the need for induced labor and the increased occurrence of autism. "We are not drawing a cause-and-effect relationship," says one. All in all, halting induced labor could prevent two cases of autism out of every 1,000 births, according to the study. But there would be a cost, as induced labor (which is often recommended when a pregnancy extends more than a week or two beyond the due date) and augmented labor (which is often used when a birth is progressing too slowly) can save lives of both moms and babies. (Read more autism stories.)