Caesarean sections 'may increase risk of autism'

Credit: PA

Babies born through Caesarean section may be at a higher risk of developing autism, according to study from an international science journal.

Academics warned newborns delivered via C-section were 23% more likely to be on the autistic spectrum later in life.

However, the scientists behind the study urged would-be mums to be cautious, as more research was needed before a robust link between the life-saving surgery and the developmental disorder could be proved without doubt.

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One of the report's authors, Professor Louise Kenny, said parents should be "reassured" there was a very small chance of their child developing autism if they were born via a C-section, which was largely "a very safe procedure".

The rate of births by C-section have been rising steadily in recent years.

In Britain, rates have increased threefold over the past three decades from 4.5% of deliveries in 1970 to around one in four births now.

The mother of an autistic boy looks over his medication for the upcoming week. Credit: REUTERS/Jim Young

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In Ireland, more than a third of babies are delivered by C-section in some of the country's main maternity units.

Eileen Curran, lead author of the report, said the relationship between the type of delivery used in childbirth and psychological development is complex.

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The World Health Organisation recommends that no more than between 10% and 15% of births should be through the surgical method.

Autism diagnosis has also increased over the last few decades - a report by the US Centre for Disease Control claimed a 78% rise in autism cases between 2002 and 2008.

However, the British Medical Journal said the number of autistic children diagnosed every year had levelled off after a surge in the 1990s.

The BMJ pointed to increased awareness, which they said had lead to a more diagnosis.