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Key Findings: Autism is Associated with Amount of Time Between Births

Mother holding newborn baby with older child in hospital.

A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and research partners found that shorter and longer time periods between births are linked to having a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The findings from this study can help healthcare providers convey information to their patients about the ideal timing between pregnancies. Read the scientific summary of the article.

Main Findings

  • Children conceived less than 18 months after their mother’s previous birth or children conceived 60 or more months after their mother’s previous birth were more likely to have ASD when compared to children conceived between 18 to 59 months after their mother’s previous birth. The relationship is stronger in children with severe ASD symptoms.
  • The linkage between birth spacing (the period of time between pregnancies) and having a child with ASD appeared to be unique to ASD, as there was no linkage found between birth spacing and having children with other developmental disabilities.
  • The linkage between birth spacing and having a child with ASD was not explained by unplanned pregnancy, an underlying fertility disorder in the mother, or high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy.

The findings from this study can help healthcare providers counsel their patients on pregnancy spacing. Couples thinking about getting pregnant can discuss pregnancy planning with a doctor or healthcare provider.

About This Study

This study used data from the Study to Explore Early Development (SEED), the largest study in the United States to help identify factors that may put children at risk for ASD. Researchers analyzed information collected from more than 1,500 second- or later-born children enrolled in SEED.

Our Work

CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities is working to improve our understanding of ASD through the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network and SEED. CDC conducts or funds these activities to

  • Learn more about the number of people who have ASD, and
  • Identify factors that may put children at risk for ASD and other developmental disabilities.

This information can help communities direct outreach efforts to those who need it most.
For more information, visit https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism.

More Information

Key Findings Reference

Schieve LA, Tian L, Drews-Botsch C, Windham GC, Newschaffer C, Daniels JL, Lee L, Croen LA, Fallin MD. Autism Spectrum Disorder and Birth Spacing: Findings from the Study to Explore Early Development (SEED). Autism Research. 2017 [epub ahead of print].

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