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Did You Know Having Babies Close In Age May Raise Risk Of Autism In Second Child? We're Shocked!

Tue, January 11, 2011 9:15am EDT by 1 Comment

AKM ImagesLots of people — including celebs like Nicole Richie — chose to have their children close in age. Now researchers found that babies conceived within 12 months after the birth of a first-born child have three times the risk of an autism diagnosis.

Hollymoms, do you have children close in age? Or are you weighing out the pros and cons of having back to back pregnancies? Well here’s a big con. According to a study published in Pediatrics, researchers at Columbia University discovered that the risk of autism may go up if the second baby is conceived shortly after the first child is born. Second-borns conceived within 12 months after were found to have three times the risk of an autism diagnosis and two times the risk if conceived between 12 to 23 months. Does this study make you rethink your thoughts about having kids close in age?

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The findings might be a sign that something in the uterine environment changes in the years directly following pregnancy — like nutrient deficiency which means a lack of folate and iron. But although this study is alarming, researchers and outside experts caution parents not to be too worried about the findings. “At this point we aren’t able to say from this research that delaying a second pregnancy would have an effect on autism risk,” said Keely Cheslack-Postava, a post-doctoral researcher at Columbia. Dr. Rita Cantor, a professor of human genetics at the University of California, agrees saying that the overall risk of autism is low. “There are a lot of people who have closely spaced pregnancies who don’t go on to have children with autism,” she adds.

There are many parents out there, including celebrities like Nicole Richie and Joel Madden, that think having children close in age is a wonderful thing for the family dynamic. When pregnancy rumors were swirling around Nicole in 2009, a source told Star, “Nicole is dying to have a sibling for Harlow who is close in age. She doesn’t want them to be more than two years apart, so that they can be best friends forever.” Nicole welcomed a healthy son, Sparrow, 20 months after her daughter. If she heard about this study, maybe she would have changed her mind!

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Researchers scrutinized birth records from 662,730 second-born children from California, born between 1992 and 2002, none of whom had an older sibling with autism. By age 6, 3,137 of these second-borns had received a diagnosis of autism, according to data provided by California’s Department of Developmental Services. Of those, 2,747 occurred in children born less than 36 months after their siblings. Even when information like parental age and birth weight were included in the study, a shorter length of time between births was still associated with a risk of autism.

That isn’t the only possible problem — researchers also discovered that shorter intervals between the births are associated with other brain diseases, like schizophrenia. Autism researchers were hoping to find one gene linked to children who developed autism but nothing. “That hasn’t happened,” developmental behavioral pediatrician Dr. Carolyn Bridgemohan said. “There are probably many factors, both genetic and environmental, that occur together that increase the risk.”

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So parents thinking about having children close in age, like Britney Spears or Brooke Burke, should consider the risks, which include prematurity. “There are a variety of reasons to think it would be better to have a larger spacing between pregnancies, for both the mother’s health and the prenatal health of the developing baby,” Elizabeth Clark of Planned Parenthood says. “Still, I don’t know that we should take this study as saying you must wait or you’ll be doing harm to your child.”

HollyMoms, does this make you rethink your timeline for having babies back to back?

–Leigh Blickley

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