Autism During Pregnancy: Signs, Risks & Causes

Here are the most common signs a child has autism that can be spotted during pregnancy.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
September 20, 2023
min read

Common Signs Of Autism During Pregnancy

Some early signs of autism are usually seen during the first six months to two years of a baby's life.

New research into the field hints at far more signs. Much of what people know about the disorder is relatively new, with a slow stream of previously unheard-of knowledge being gained over the years.

In the future, autism might be verified for every child during a woman's prenatal period. But for now, pediatricians, psychologists, and therapists typically look for signs after a child has been born.

It may go undetected for some years and be triggered by a major turning point, such as a child being put in a social situation like the beginning of school.

In a study done in 2022, MRIs scanned the fetuses of women who later went on to have children with an autism diagnosis. They learned that specific regions of their brain were bigger than usual, particularly the insula and amygdala.

Researchers also hinted that the findings made during pregnancy may better help predict the development of autism later on in a child's life. Although far-fetched, it might be the first step in medical experts finding ways to avoid autism in children altogether.

How Pregnancy May Shape A Child’s Autism

Pregnancy is a scary and exciting experience for many women. Having a baby is a big responsibility that can alter the life, lifestyle, and personalities of women all over the world.

One of the most formative times in a human being's life is when they're inside a woman's womb.

How a pregnant woman eats, exercises and drinks can all impact their baby positively or negatively. The environment is proven to be an essential element in the early developmental stages of a fetus.

Even a woman's stress could affect a baby's well-being. Exposure to some chemicals has been shown to increase the chances of having an autism diagnosis in the future.

Chemicals that are most likely to do this include paint thinners, aerosols of various kinds, and industrial cleaners.

Gynecologists always warn pregnant women about the risks and can regularly screen to ensure that the fetus' growth during the prenatal period is normal. The consumption of alcohol might also lead to autism.

Drinking while pregnant can hurt a fetus in more than one way.

It raises the chances of stillbirth, can cause digestive defects, damage the placenta, and lead to various disorders, one of them being ASD. Drinking during pregnancy can also put a woman's health at risk. Smoking is the same.

Not only does smoking harm the entire body of fetuses, but could form lasting damage to a child's heart health. It raises the likelihood of having a child prematurely, and like alcohol, can cause autism, along with a host of birth defects. Both alcohol and smoking are strongly prohibited during pregnancy.

Additionally, older women that get pregnant might see autistic symptoms in their babies after birth. It's widely known that older pregnant women carry a greater chance of having children with Down syndrome, yet this also applies to autism.

The reasons for this aren't conclusive, but the older a woman gets, the more likely it could occur.

Women over the age of 40 have a 51% chance of having autistic children, though other factors might be the cause of such a percentage. One of those could be the poor habits described already, such as smoking and consumption of alcohol.

Stress and poor eating habits during pregnancy might impact the brain of yet-to-be-born infants, as can injuries sustained from falling. Although the research for this relating to autism is still ongoing, its physical injuries can't be ruled out, and these may cause a fetus' brain.

The things that a mother consumes, or breathes in might be the components that assist in the formation of autism.

Again, if women were to take one or more of the substances listed, or put themselves in a place where they're exposed to toxic chemicals, the results from it could be damaging.

According to, the level of testosterone in the mother's blood must remain within a very restricted range for the development of a healthy brain in the fetus to occur. In fact, having elevated levels of fetal testosterone can be linked to autism spectrum disorder.

How To Prevent Having A Child With Autism

Women can best reduce autism developing in their children by doing the following:

  • Having children before 21 - The ideal time for women to get pregnant is when they're between the ages of 21 and 40. Some place the ranges at 21 to 35. The older a woman gets, the fewer eggs are produced. The chances for autism go up with each passing decade and are highest in pregnant women over 50.
  • Working closely with gynecologists and other physicians - Doctors can pick good medications that are specific to a pregnant woman's individual needs.
  • No smoking, no alcohol - Any activity that involves the consumption of alcohol and tobacco should be avoided. Although it's a non-tobacco product, e-cigarettes and vapes shouldn't be used during pregnancy either. Like tobacco products, they too contain high levels of nicotine and can cause autism or brain damage at worst.
  • Frequent prenatal visits with a doctor - They are recommended immediately when any physical problems occur, or when pregnant women have illnesses of their own, such as diabetes.
  • Keeping an eye on weight - While eating well is great, pregnant women should avoid not eating too little, unhealthy foods high in sugar, sodium, and cholesterol are best avoided.
  • Abiding by the medical advice that doctors give - doctors handle numerous pregnancies throughout the year and know what's best for pregnant women. Pregnant women are advised to follow the medical advice they give while being sure to give detailed information about their health.


Can you tell if a baby has autism during pregnancy?

The closest that doctors have come to detecting autism in the fetus of a pregnant mother is through MRI scans of their baby's brain. When that occurs, enlargements and other present abnormalities may signal a later autism diagnosis. Doctors may speculate about a possible autism diagnosis if a pregnant woman engages in poor habits while they're pregnant, like smoking.

Can drinking while pregnant cause autism?

Yes, drinking alcohol raises the chances of pregnant women having a child that's on the spectrum. They also risk serious injuries to their unborn child, including the possibility of physical defects, reduction of growth, stillbirth, and a host of other problems. Alcohol is shown to be a serious cause of lifelong lasting disabilities in children, like depression, anxiety, and stunted growth during childhood.

What can cause autism while someone is pregnant?

Several things can cause autism in a woman's to-be-delivered baby. The most likely are drug consumption, chemical exposure, and having children later in life. Many women have kids in their 30s and 40s, but autism is more likely to be seen the longer a woman waits to have children.

Can you prevent autism while pregnant?

Women cannot fully prevent autism from occurring in their babies when pregnant, though they can lower the chances of it happening. Sometimes, autism can happen due to problems that a woman or doctor cannot control.

It may run in someone's family. If the father of a pregnant woman, or the woman herself, comes from families where others have autism, it can be passed down to the child. If not, the best method of prevention is for women to abide by their doctor and avoid toxic substances.

What trimester does autism develop in?

Autism can be seen by doctors at a very early stage of pregnancy, even during the second trimester. To detect typically requires brain scans and additional checkups. Nothing conclusive can be made until a woman has delivered the baby and the child is examined further by psychologists. An official diagnosis would occur sometime after pregnancy, but not during.

Can stress in pregnancy cause autism?

For a while now, genetics have been linked to a higher chance of autism in children. But environmental factors that occur when a woman is pregnant may also increase the risk.

Being stressed out, depressed, or experiencing trauma may be contributors. As such, women are suggested to place themselves in an environment that isn't stressful and talk with a doctor about stress-preventative methods.

How can I reduce my autism risk during pregnancy?

Women who smoke or vape should immediately stop after confirming that they're pregnant. They should stay away from areas where people are using aerosols with chemicals in them. Spray paint is one example. Chemicals can potentially alter a child's brain and decrease growth in the womb, on top of risking autism.

What are the chances of having a baby with autism?

Although the chances of an expecting mother giving birth to an autistic child are low, about one out of every 44 people in the US is autistic.

Can an unhealthy pregnancy cause autism?

Characterized by using drugs, being overweight, and being underweight, having unhealthy pregnancies may lead to autism in a mother's child.


steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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