Huge study proves having an epidural won't give children autism

Women who have an epidural during birth won't increase the likelihood of their children having autism, a new study has found.

Scientists looked at nearly 123,175 children born in the Canadian province of Manitoba between 2005 and 2016, 47,011 whose mums had an epidural (ELA) - a way to give pain relief during birth. 

The Canadian researchers found little difference in rates of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) between the two groups. They found 1.7 percent of the 76,164 births that didn't involve epidurals were later diagnosed with ASD. 

In comparison, 2.1 percent of the births involving epidurals were later diagnosed with ASD - 985 children out of the 47,011 studied.

But after accounting for pre-existing health conditions, socioeconomic status, and other prenatal elements, the researchers said there was zero association between the ELA and ASD. 

The research was carried out after a US study last year found a potential risk of autism for children whose mothers had an epidural.  That research, however, didn't account for risk factors such as health conditions and socioeconomic status, the Canadian researchers said.

"The large size of our sample allowed for precise risk estimates of the association between ELA and ASD," the research by the University of Manitoba and Stanford University said. The findings were published in the medical journal JAMA.

"Data linkages across multiple databases, including medical services, hospital abstracts, pharmaceutical dispensations, educational level, income assistance, and postpartum screens, allowed us to capture a wide set of sociodemographic, prepregnancy, pregnancy-related, and perinatal covariates for inclusion in our regression models.

"This finding is of clinical importance in the context of pregnant women and their obstetric and anesthesia care professionals who are considering ELA during labour."