When concern for the health of either a pregnant mother or her unborn child is raised, many obstetricians and gynecologists (OB/GYN) recommend induced labor to speed up uterine contractions. Certain risks, however, have been associated with this method, including infection and the need for C-section. A Committee Opinion released by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has ruled out autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as a possible risk factor for labor induction or augmentation.

One of the most popular methods for inducing labor involves the use of oxytocin, a hormone naturally produced by the human body. Medications made up of oxytocin, Pitocin and Syntocinon, are given in low doses to stimulate contractions. A string of recent studies have linked the use of oxytocin and induced or augmented labor to a child’s autism development.

“In obstetric practice, labor induction and augmentation play an essential role in protecting the health of some mothers and in promoting safe delivery of many babies,” Chair of the Committee on Obstetric Practice, Dr. Jeffrey L. Ecker, said in a statement. “When compared with these benefits, the research we reviewed in assembling this Committee Opinion, relative to the utilization of oxytocin, had clear limitations. Because of this, these studies should not impact how obstetricians already safely and effectively use labor induction and augmentation when caring for their patients.”

Ecker and colleagues on the ACOG committee assessed research surrounding the use of oxytocin for labor induction and ASD in children born from a labor induced pregnancy. According to the Committee Opinion, “a number of limitations, such as small size, retrospective data collection, and limited control for possible confounding variables.” Ultimately, the research team advised against changes to counseling, indication and method guidelines for labor induction and augmentation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every 68 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder. Since there is no medical test to diagnose ASD, child behavior and neurological development are the only ways of telling if a child is affected by autism. Although labor induction has been ruled out as a possible cause for autism, certain choices made during pregnancy can increase a child’s likelihood of developing ASD. They include the prescription drugs valporic acid and thalidomide. Doctors consider the critical periods for autism development as before, during, and immediately after birth.