Researchers claim that babies born by Caesarean section are at higher risk of developing autism, although there is no clarity as to the reason.
University College Cork researchers examined data from countries including Sweden, Canada, Australia and the US to reach this conclusion.
One of the authors of the study, obstetrician Professor Louise Kenny, said caution should be taken regarding these finding as more research is needed.
She said that parents should be reassured that the general risk of a child developing autism is extremely small and the C-section procedure is safe and could save lives if medically indicated.
The study has been published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and reviewed two previous findings from studies done on the link between ASD and C-section and searched for links between the surgical procedure and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
According to the lead author of the report, Eileen Curran, the link between the type of delivery during childbirth and psychological development is very complex. She said that in view of the increasing rate of Caesarean sections globally, the results of this study justify a larger study to explore potential causal mechanisms.
In the UK, the rate of Caesarean births has trebled over the past 30 years. In Ireland, in excess of one third of babies are delivered by C-section.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued a recommendation that no more than between 10% and 15% of births should be done by C-section.
According to a study published in the British Medical Journal during last year, the number of newly diagnosed autism cases has levelled off after an increase in reported cases during the 1990s. It attributed this to increased awareness and early diagnosis of the condition.
Figures from the NHS indicate that one in 100 people in the UK suffer from ASD. The condition affects behaviour, interests, communication and social interaction.
Image Credit: Tammra McCauley