There is growing scientific and theoretical support in the medical community for the idea that autism is caused during delivery/birth.
Now, no one knows for sure yet what causes autism. For years, I have been told that a cause, if ever determined, will end up being no single factor, no magic bullet, but actually a large and confusing mess of factors, causes, and genetic predispositions. Okay, fine. However, I urge you to keep reading.
My son is autistic. He turns 12 next month and is high-functioning, but he is definitely autistic. He also had oxygen issues when he was delivered. Actually, he was okay right away, but then quickly he got blue, and they whisked him away. Everyone in the birthing suite got ominously quiet. Then it seemed he was okay…until the autism emerged years later.
I keep going back to that moment in my mind. Over the years I’ve done a little digging about the effects of oxygen deprivation, like with someone who has been revived from drowning or asphyxiation. I was struck by how similar those effects are to the symptoms of autism. Without oxygen- and iron-rich blood, parts of the brain develop lesions on them and begin to die.
I’d read a doctor’s article saying that certain populations have almost no autism. The two groups he talked about were the Amish and Somalis. Some of you can tell me if it’s true that Amish have very few cases of autism, because I don’t know. The doctor also noted that the midwives in these communities do not rush to clamp or cut the umbilical cord during delivery. But Somali women who give birth in American hospitals have the same rate of autism as the rest of the American population. He theorized that there might be a connection between cord clamping/cutting and autism, and he called for a study.
Then this week I decided to dig a little more deeply. I found over a hundred scientific and medical articles drawing a still-as-yet-theoretical connection between what they call ICC, immediate cord clamping, and autism.
The practice in the West since the 1980s has been to clamp the cord immediately after the baby has taken its first breath. I’ve heard two explanations for this: one, that it’s to prevent medications from the mother from traveling to the newborn, and two, that it has something to do with safety of the mother. But apparently for time immemorial before that, the practice was to not clamp or cut the cord so quickly.
Would it surprise you to learn that the sudden spike in autism coincides with this change?
Of course that’s anecdotal and isn’t enough. There are many other things that began in the 1980s—like the use of fax machines and VCRs, for instance—that probably have nothing to do with the rise in autism. So we can’t conclude anything on that alone, but neither should we discount it.
As I understand it, the placenta is essentially an organ that “belongs” to the baby. The idea that the connection between the two should be severed as soon as possible so as to prevent medicine from the mother getting to the infant seems odd, since I thought it was the baby’s blood (not the mother’s) that was running through the placenta, especially in a full term baby.
At birth, the placenta still has a large portion of the baby’s blood running through it. Indeed, the placenta is still “pulsating” at birth. It’s delivering the baby’s blood and other nutrients (including the oxygen and iron the baby’s blood carries) back into the baby.
ICC effectively cuts the connection between the baby and one of its organs.
It takes all of five minutes after delivery for the placenta to stop pulsating (signaling that it has delivered all its goodness to the baby). And yet the practice in Western hospitals is to clamp that cord immediately after a breath.
Is autism caused by the sudden deprivation of blood, oxygen, and iron that happens when the umbilical cord is clamped before the placenta has finished its job?
Did I stand there and watch my son get autism? Did the doctor—and me, since I cut his cord—give him autism right there in the room? Is that why he looked fine at delivery and then suddenly got blue? Did we give him brain damage?
The symptoms of autism are often hard to see in an infant. How can you tell if a newborn is delayed in language or has odd emotional displays or doesn’t play well with peers? These things develop—or don’t develop—at around age 3 or so, when autism is often detected. If those areas of the brain were damaged at birth, very little oddness would appear until what those areas were supposed to do doesn’t happen when or as it should. (Again I’m struck with the similarity to the effects of oxygen deprivation in adults.)
Here’s my plea: Please tell your OB that you do not want the cord clamped immediately. No ICC. Tell him or her that you do not want the cord clamped until at least 90 seconds after the placenta has stopped pulsating.
Five minutes. It’s all I’m asking.
Would I have waited 5 minutes to prevent my son from having autism?