Study: Spacing babies close may raise risk of autism

A new study shows that spacing babies close together may put the second baby at a higher risk for autism. The study was published Monday in the medical journal “Pediatrics.”

From The Associated Press (I bolded the good stuff for a quick read):

CHICAGO – Close birth spacing may put a second-born child at higher risk for autism, suggests a preliminary study based on more than a half-million California children.

Children born less than two years after their siblings were considerably more likely to have an autism diagnosis compared to those born after at least three years.

The sooner the second child was conceived the greater the likelihood of that child later being diagnosed with autism. The effect was found for parents of all ages, decreasing the chance that it was older parents and not the birth spacing behind the higher risk.

“That was pretty shocking to us, to be honest,” said senior author Peter Bearman of Columbia University in New York. The researchers took into account other risk factors for autism and still saw the effect of birth spacing.

“No matter what we did, whether we were looking at autism severity, looking at age, or looking at all the various dimensions we could think of, we couldn’t get rid of this finding,” Bearman said. Still, he said more studies are needed to confirm the birth spacing link.

Closely spaced births are increasing in the United States because women are delaying childbirth and because of unplanned pregnancies. Government data show the number of closely spaced births — where babies are less than two years apart — is rising, from 11 percent of all births in 1995 to 18 percent in 2002. …

Reasons behind the birth spacing-autism link aren’t clear. It could be that parents are more likely to notice developmental problems when siblings are very close in age, Bearman said. When 2-year-old Billy isn’t developing like 3-year-old Bobby, parents might be more likely to seek help.

Or biological factors could be at play, he said. Pregnancy depletes a mother’s nutrients like folate, a B vitamin found in leafy green vegetables, citrus fruit and dried beans. Prior research has tied close birth spacing to low birth weights and prematurity, possibly because of lack of folate.

“And it could be a combination of effects, not a single explanation but a combination of dynamics,” Bearman said.

The researchers looked at births from 1992 through 2002 in California. They analyzed data on second-born children born to the same parents whose older siblings didn’t have autism. The information on autism diagnoses came from the state’s Department of Developmental Services.

The overall prevalence of autism was less than 1 percent in the study. Of all the 662,730 second-born children in the analysis, 3,137 had an autism diagnosis. Of the 156,034 children conceived less than a year after the birth of their older siblings, 1,188 had an autism diagnosis — a higher rate, but still less than 1 percent.

Children with Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorders, milder forms of autism, weren’t included. Government studies indicate about 1 in 100 children have autism disorders, including the milder forms.

Dr. Diane Ashton, March of Dimes’ deputy medical director, called the study results an interesting finding that she hasn’t seen in prior research. The results will have to be replicated, she said, but her organization already suggests at least a year between pregnancies.

“That is to allow the mother to rebuild depleted nutritional stores and decrease the risk for low birth weight and prematurity. Surely this evidence would provide additional reasons for those recommendations to be made,” she said.

The March of Dimes also recommends that all women of childbearing age take a daily multivitamin containing folic acid, an artificial version of folate. Since half of pregnancies aren’t planned, the recommendation includes women who aren’t trying to get pregnant.

The new study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Bearman hesitated to give advice to parents planning families because the results are so new and unconfirmed. Older parents may not want to wait two or three years for a second child because of other health concerns, he said.

“The advice for parents is to pay attention to the science,” Bearman said.

So what do you think? Have you noticed anything if your babies were spaced closely together? My first two were born 25 months apart and I definitely felt that was harder on my body than when the third baby came. I was still nursing my first when I got pregnant with my second so I was still taking prenatal vitamins.

Would this study make you rethink getting pregnant close to your previous pregnancy?

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January 11th, 2011
7:19 am

Well I suppose that at least this study has some scientific basis. But the most important thing is that that decision won’t affect me. However anyone decides to space their children, it’s their business unlike the vaccine thing which affects public health.


January 11th, 2011
7:51 am

I read about this yesterday and wondered if you would pick up on it. Mine were 4 years and 51 weeks apart….both born RIGHT after school got out as I was teaching. I wanted some space between mine but that was just me. It’s a done deal now.


January 11th, 2011
8:37 am

My mother had 7 babies in 8 years, two were born only 11-1/2 mos apart. None were autistic. I have two friends with severely autistic children, and there are several who grew up in our hometown who have given birth to autistic children. Most of them feel that there is a genetic predispostion that is triggered by something in the environment.

My sister-in-law and I are 13 years apart. We were discussing the number of families we know with autistic children, my age group as opposed to hers. All families we know with autistic children are much closer in age to me than her. The only significant difference we came up with in our very casual conversation is that most, if not all, of my friends had been on the pill for a good number of years, prior to starting families. Her generation, on the other hand, had their babies first, and then went on the pill. They also had their children much younger, 10-15 years younger. Has there ever been a study done regarding birth control pills and autism? How about processed food?


January 11th, 2011
8:38 am

Many of the children in my community are spaced closely together, and while there have been a couple of autistic children, that appears to have been genetic (both in the same family, father’s family had history of it). I realize this is completely anecdotal, but the theory doesn’t seem to hold here, and we’re talking about a couple of thousand children born over the years here (Orthodox Jewish families tend to be large).


January 11th, 2011
8:41 am

Also, both of my friends second children, one’s age difference is almost exactly 2 years apart, the other 8, both were involved in early intervention for autism as infants. I think it’s more than just the parents comparing kids.


January 11th, 2011
8:52 am

@ fk…I was on the pill for 4 years before my first and 3 years between, as I nursed after the first.
Are you talking about 10 plus years? Just curious. Is your SIL older than you?
My MIL had 4 kids, a miscarriage and a hysterectomy by the time she was 25. No autism but that was 45-50 years ago.


January 11th, 2011
9:12 am

My older two are only 15 months apart, and the younger one has a mild case of Asperger’s. Is it because they are so close? I have no idea. At least this study used a larger sample than Andrew Wakefield’s.


January 11th, 2011
9:21 am

My sil is older. We were just trying to come up with generational differences between coming of age in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Some of my friends were on the pill for 10+ years, a few even more.


January 11th, 2011
11:06 am

Interesting. I have never noticed this among the many children I know/have taught. I have noticed that frequently when kids are born close together (less than 2 years) the second one is frequently markedly less bright-seeming than the first. NOT ALWAYS, before some of you jump on me with your stories! If what I have noticed is true, is it due to fewer resources (time, money) for the second (and subsequent ones), maternal nutrition, etc not being back in line after the previous birth before a second pregnancy takes place, or..???

Because of this observation of mine (honed now from 38 years of teaching), I had my children 4 and 5 years apart. I have never thought it was a good idea to “have them close together and they can be best friends” (yeah, right) or “have them close together and they will occupy each other” (uh huh) or “have them close together and get it over with” (What?) Mine did turn out to be good friends and there was little negative competition because it was obvious that Baby B couldn’t do everything Baby A did–Baby B was 4 years younger, so it was a non-issue. Of course, it did mean 12 straight years of high school marching band! LOL

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

January 11th, 2011
11:31 am

My smart cousin who is a brilliant scientist wants us to read this story — it’s all about how stats can be misleading and studies need to be replicated and mixed with other components to suss out if they are really true — so take a look at my smart cousin’s link!

The Momster

January 11th, 2011
11:35 am

Hmmm…..I have 3 siblings, and the four of us are 4.5 years from oldest to youngest (now aged 60 to almost 56). I’m 14 months younger than my sister, and my next sib is 14 months younger than I am. Guess there’s an exception to every “MAY raise risk” since none of us are autistic. Nutty, yes. Autistic, no. Did the study take into account the ages of the mother and father? How long will it take before this study is as discredited as the vaccine study?


January 11th, 2011
11:41 am

Out of my close girlfriends, only one has a child with Autism. He is the first born.
I usually make comparisons with my friends since there are 10 of us. Easy numbers.
Unrelated to Autism, I have discovered through my own experience that you should wait at least 2 years if you have a C-section birth. It takes about that long for your body to really heal from the surgery. There are a lot of risks if you have a child within that time – rupture, low fluid, cerebral palsy.


January 11th, 2011
11:56 am


January 11th, 2011
11:56 am

I’m an excellent driver.

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January 11th, 2011
12:10 pm

@ catlady…haha….glad you gave yourself an out.


January 11th, 2011
12:37 pm

Just a thought on catlady’s remarks about some people thinking having kids close together means they’ll be buddies…In the families I’ve worked with, there was a lot more rivalry (and some knock down, drag out fights!) between closer-aged siblings (less than 2.5-3 years) than those 3+ years apart. In most cases they grew out of it and became good friends by their teen years, but the siblings further apart in age seemed to have more of an older protector/younger adorer bond from early on (the exception being twins who were almost always close buddies).


January 11th, 2011
12:46 pm

HB…thanks for sharing. You have experience in this realm that others may not and I tip my hat to you on your 12:37 post Mine, boy and girl, were not all that close when they were smaller but I enjoy watching them now. When son was at UGA, he would call his sister and tell her he was coming home and taking her to dinner. It has been so enjoyable for us, as parents, to experience and appreciate the attributes our adult children can bring to the table!


January 11th, 2011
1:04 pm

BS my kids are 10 years apart and there’s not problem. I believe that it’s the immunization shots with all the animal parts and mercury in them. I wish drug companies would stop lying for a change.


January 11th, 2011
1:20 pm

What BUNK! My mom had 5 kids in 7 years and not one of them has autism! My children are almost exactly 3 years apart, and my son has autism. It showed up shortly after he got a set of shots when he was 2…..


January 11th, 2011
1:21 pm

i personally think it all has to do with something in this modern age. back in the day women had one baby after another and autism wasnt a huge issue. there were many families who had up to and above 10 kids apprroximately 2 years apart (or less)


January 11th, 2011
3:40 pm

This study is a little disturbing especially since I have three in just a little over three years. But it brings me back to college statistics remembering that correlation does not necessarily equal causation. I know a few families that have just one child who is autistic.


January 11th, 2011
6:29 pm

My mom had 4 kids in less than 4 years and none of us were autistic. This tiny 1% difference didn’t need to be widely published.