Prenatal Vitamins: Link Between Supplements and Autism in Babies?


During pregnancy, a woman’s daily intake requirements for certain nutrients, such as folic acid (folate), calcium, and iron are vital for proper fetal growth and development – but is there a link between taking prenatal vitamins and autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) includes a range of conditions, including Asperger syndrome, which alters social interaction, communication, interests, and behavior. According to the Autism Society, more than 3.5 million Americans live with ASD, with an estimated 1 in 68 children being diagnosed.

While the underlying causes of autism are still not fully understood, many health experts believe that genetics, environmental factors or a combination of the two are to blame. Now, some research is making the connection between prenatal nutrition and the increased risk of autism in babies.

Autism and Prenatal Care

Although there’s still a lot to learn on how maternal dietary factors could influence brain development in the womb, there is an emerging body of evidence that links maternal nutrition and autism risk.  A 2011study published in Epidemiology concluded that a high-quality, folate-rich diet before getting pregnant may help reduce risk of ASD by nearly half, and another 2013 paper found that a higher fat intake while pregnant lowered the risk of autism in babies over 30 percent.

Now, a new international study suggests that taking prenatal multivitamins during early pregnancy may be associated with reduced risk of autism in children compared with mothers who do not take any prenatal supplements at all.

Prenatal Vitamins and Autism, Explained by Science

Published in the British Medical Journal, researchers from hospitals and universities in Philadelphia, Stockholm and Bristol drew on medical data from nearly 300,000 Swedish mothers and their children who were born between 1996 and 2007. The mothers had reported their use of folic acid, iron, and multivitamin supplements at their first prenatal visit; the researchers then checked national registers to identify cases of children with ASD.

After adjusting for factors that might influence the findings, the researchers found that women who took multivitamins, with or without additional iron and/or folic acid, had a lower chance of their child developing autism with intellectual disability compared to mothers who took none.

“Multivitamin use with or without added iron or folic acid was associated with a lower likelihood of child autism with intellectual disability, compared with mothers who did not use supplements,” explained lead author Elizabeth DeVilbiss in the study.

More Research Needed on Vitamins Role

How can I prevent autism during pregnancy, you might be asking yourself. While the findings are interesting and establish a link between prenatal vitamins and a lower risk of ASD, they cannot establish cause and effect, nor do they call for any specific changes in supplement and prenatal care guidelines for pregnant women.

“There have been more studies in recent years about varied aspects of diet during pregnancy and autism risk involving multivitamins, iron, folic acid, vitamin D and more, but the evidence is still inconclusive,” continued DeVilbiss. “More work needs to be done in this area to clarify these potential relationships.”


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