New evidence that pregnant women with autism need additional support

Researchers find high rates of pregnancy complications among those with developmental or intellectual disabilities, including autism

September 11, 2015

The first nationwide study of pregnant women with developmental or intellectual disabilities has found high rates of pregnancy complications including fetal death, preeclampsia and preterm birth. The researchers urge the development of programs that provide these women with the additional support they need.

“We want to learn why these women and their babies fare worse than those without disabilities,” says co-author Monika Mitra, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “We plan to use the findings to develop practice recommendations for improving perinatal care for these women.”

The findings appear in this month’s issue of the American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

The researchers analyzed hospital discharge records for 1,706 women with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. An estimated 40 percent of all people with autism also have intellectual disability.

The elevated rates of pregnancy complications included:

  • Preeclampsia
  • Preterm birth
  • Fetal death (after 20 weeks)
  • Caesarean delivery
  • Prolonged hospitalization after delivery

With funding from the National Institutes of Health, the researchers are now delving deeper into national health care data to track pregnancy and childbirth complications and health outcomes among these women and their children. This will include a more detailed look at the needs of pregnant women with different types of developmental disabilities, including autism. 

The study was done jointly by investigators at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Brandeis University.