Is There a Link Between Breech Birth and Autism Spectrum Disorders? Your Questions Answered

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Breech Births and ASD: The Study

In April 2009, a shocking study came out the linked breech birth and autism spectrum disorders. This study, which was published by psychiatrists at the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City, examined the medical records of babies born in 1994. These records included 132 babies who were later diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, as well as 13,200 babies who never had this diagnosis. They discovered two factors that seemed to be related to the development of autism spectrum disorders: the baby’s position at the time of labor and the mother’s age.

Dr. Deborah Bilder, an assistant professor of psychiatry and the lead researcher in the study, published the results in the May 2009 issue of Pediatrics. She maintained that according to the study, a baby who is presenting breech at the time of labor is twice as likely to develop ASD (autism spectrum disorder) as a child who is presenting vertex. A breech baby has its buttocks or feet at the vaginal opening rather than its head. (In other words, it is right-side-up rather than upside-down.)

Implications of the Study

Some parents of breech babies who heard about this study may have panicked. Do breech births truly cause autism? Even Bilder would not go this far. She says that the risk of autism, even for children who were born breech, is still relatively small. More importantly, the study only shows a relationship between the two factors, not causation. The study has not determined whether a breech birth causes autism, whether autistic tendencies in the fetus somehow lead to breech presentation, or whether a third factor causes both breech births and autism.

Bilder has her guesses about the theory behind the study’s conclusions. In an interview, Bilder revealed her thoughts: “The implication is that there is a prenatal factor involved, which lends itself to breech presentations, that is also lending itself later to the development of autism, such as an impairment in neuromuscular development.” Further research is necessary to fully understand the meaning behind the study’s findings.

Further Research Necessary

tThe implications of the study are still unclear. Sr. Bilder and her team hope to do several follow-up studies to further understand this phenomenon. As a first step, they hope to replicate their study with a group of children born later than those in the study. If this research brings about the same results, they may study the children who had both breech presentation and autism to determine if they can find a genetic similarity that all of those children share. This can help to further explain the connection between breech birth and autism spectrum disorders.


This post is part of the series: Autism Research for Parents

Are you interested in the dynamics of how autism works? This series contains several articles that discuss what researchers have discovered or theorized about autism, especially those issues relevant to parents and caregivers.

  1. Vaccines and Autism: Are They Linked?
  2. Is There An Autism Crisis?
  3. What is the Executive Dysfunction Theory on Autism?
  4. Can Breech Births Cause Autism Spectrum Disorders?
  5. Brilliant Minds: What is an Autistic Savant?