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Causes Of Autism During Pregnancy to Focus!

Causes Of Autism During Pregnancy to Focus!

Autism is a very common neurodevelopmental disorder among children in every country of the world. Children from even the most advanced and developed countries are not safe from this disorder. A big question that the entire world is facing even now is related to the causes of autism. We do not know any authentic cause/s of autism as for today. Since Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) follows an early onset in infants, researchers have also shown keen interest in finding the causes of autism during pregnancy. Twins are usually studied to understand the basics of Autism.

Causes of autism during pregnancy

Autism Spectrum Disorder manifests itself primarily through the deficits that occur in communications and social interactions. Moreover, restrictive and repetitive behaviors are also frequent signs of autism. Over the last few decades, the number of autistic people around the globe has substantially increased. However, no medical diagnosis is still available in this regard. To understand the basics of this disorder, it is important to keep an eye during the pregnancy period as well. This is because autism can occur during the pregnancy period. So, focusing on the concerned aspects, we can fight against autism. Parents usually ask that can autism be detected before birth? Early detection is the key, but more important is to avoid such factors completely.

Causes of Autism

Different genetic and environmental factors can cause Autism. However no single unifying cause has been finalized as yet. Both genetic and environmental factors are responsible for autism. However, the proportional contribution of genetic and environmental factors towards autism remains unknown to date.

Genetic Causes

As for the genetics, it has been widely found that siblings of an ASD patient are more likely to be diagnosed with ASD as compared to the normal population. Similarly, monozygotic twins have more chances of autism than dizygotic ones. When it comes to genetic causes of autism during pregnancy, genes that are responsible for brain development, functions of the neurotransmitters and neuronal excitability are the major candidate genes. However, once again the human research is lacking in authentic data as there are about 700 genes that have recognized as potential casual agents in the development of ASD in human beings.

Monogenic autism is the autism that results from the mutation of a single gene in the human body. This is a very complex phenomenon that lay people cannot understand in its complete essence. In the same way, epigenetic modifications of genes also shares a very deep association with autism and its onset in the human beings. Understanding the genetic causes of autism during pregnancy appears to be a very complicated phenomenon. Also, most of this concept is not at all within the control of the parents, especially the mothers.

Environmental/External Causes

The epigenetic modifications of the genes can be disrupted during pregnancy if certain specific external factors become operational. This can be seen as a combined effect of genes and environment as the major cause of autism during pregnancy. There are different external causes in the environment that can cause autism-related changes in the genes of the unborn baby.

1. In Utero Utilization of Drugs

Pregnant women may take different drugs during their nine months of pregnancy. But, do you really know how harmful some of the drugs can be for your unborn baby!!!!! Maternal intake of certain drugs is strongly related with the adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes post delivery.

causes of autism during pregnancy

Thalidomide is a very common drug that was used to treat nausea during pregnancy. However, strong research evidence has been provided that thalidomide is responsible for a vast majority of neurodevelopmental disorders (autism being one of them). In the same way, different physical birth defects and even death of the unborn baby can occur due to thalidomide. Today, pregnant women do not use this drug in most parts of the world. However, what about the countries where the general population does not know about this drug and its effects altogether!!

Anti-epileptic Drugs

Anti-epileptic drugs, especially valproic acid, are generally prescribed for treating epilepsy and seizures. However valproic acid is also prescribed in migraine headaches, bipolar disorders and many other conditions as well. Prenatal exposure to these drugs can cause autism in infants. Other types of neurodevelopmental disorders can also occur greatly in such infants.

Selective Serotonin-Reuptake Inhibitors

Selective Serotonin-Reuptake Inhibitors that are more commonly known by the general population as SSRIs are widely used to treat prenatal depression. Serotonin is an extremely crucial neurotransmitter for the fetal brain development. Its dysregulation can cause severe neurodevelopmental deficiencies in the fetus. As their name depicts, SSRIs inhibit the reuptake of serotonin in the human brain. As a result, autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders become highly common in such cases. First and second trimesters of pregnancy are the main zones of danger from SSRIs. Alarmingly, research has shown that women who used SSRIs at any times in their lives have to suffer from the adverse effects during pregnancy even if they had stopped the usage completely.

2. Maternal Infection

Different types of maternal infections can have differing effects on the overall health of the fetus. Among the different causes of autism during pregnancy, maternal infection is an important one. The infections can be both viral and bacterial in nature. For example, influenza, rubella and cytomegalovirus are the maternal infections that have strong associations with ASD. This is because these infections are dangerous for the immune system of the fetus.

3. Maternal Antibodies

Maternal Antibody-related (MAR) Autism occurs in about 22% cases of autism on the global level. Placenta works as a highly selective barrier. It only allows healthy and specific material to reach the fetus. However, if the mother is experiencing some autoimmune disease (such as psoriasis, diabetes or thyroid disease, etc.), then the situation differs. IgG antibodies of the mother’s immune system can cross the placenta to provide an enriched immunity to the fetus. However in autoimmune diseases, offending IgG antibodies can also cross over and lead to different disorders, autism being one of them.

4. Advanced Parental Age

This is also a very crucial risk factor when it comes to the causes of autism during pregnancy. Although maternal age also matters, however advanced parental age is a more critical factor. The mechanism is scientifically simple. In males, production of sperms keep on going throughout the life. This is not the case with female ova. For males, over the course of time, small de novo mutations can start accumulating in the sperm. These mutations can alter the genes – thus leading to the dangers of neurodevelopmental diseases such as autism.

Maternal age is important in the sense that pregnancy complications can arise or autoimmune diseases are more likely to occur when mother is in older age. Therefore, old age couples must consult their doctors before conceiving a baby.

5. Deficiencies of Zinc, Vitamin D and Melatonin

The human fetus requires certain important elements for its growth. These elements are important throughout pregnancy. Their deficiencies can be damaging for the brain development.

Deficiency of zinc inhibits the proper maturation of the fetus’s neurons. Furthermore, different enzyme need Zinc as a basic element. So, they cannot work normally in its absence. As a result, dysfunctions occur in the brain. Research has also shown that a vast majority of autistic children have high levels of Zinc deficiencies in their bodies. Zinc is involved with so many genes that it can be regarded as a point of interaction between genes and environment. Zinc deficiency in pregnant mother accelerates autism in fetus.

Vitamin D deficiency is linked scientifically with both structural and functional abnormalities of the nervous system. If mothers have Vitamin D deficiencies, then babies will develop autism. In the same way, if melatonin is lower in mother’s body then baby will develop autism.

6. Prenatal Stress

You might have heard the question “can stress during pregnancy cause autism?” quite frequently. Prenatal stress is harmful for the unborn baby in many ways. Development of ASD is also one such harmful outcome. Excessive exposure to prenatal stress can release harmful enzymes in the placenta. They can then cross the blood-brain barrier. This affects the brain of the fetus.

7. Exposure to Toxic Substances

Different toxic substances and pollutants come within these causes of autism during pregnancy. Pesticides, Smoke from cigarettes, heavy metals, air pollutants and many other materials keep adding into the list. Most of the research results have indicated higher likelihood of autism due to such exposures.


All in all, autism is a very common neurodevelopmental disorder. It effects the entire life of the child and parents. Experts monitor the causes of autism during pregnancy carefully.

We would be very happy to hear from you on the comments sections of our Facebook page. You can also visit our Quora page. Feel free to leave your comments and queries about causes of autism during pregnancy!!!

About The Author

Affaf Amjad

Having an MPhil in Applied psychology and being a mother of three kids, I have always tried to try and test different psychological interventions and approaches in the day-to-day routine of my kids. Sharing my results and effective strategies with parents around the globe is the my main aim as a writer.

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