Autism and Pregnancy

The number of children being diagnosed with autism is on the rise. Improved detection could be one reason.

And many experts believe environmental toxins may play a bigger role than one might think. 

The Centers for Disease Control says autism spectrum disorders affect one in every 166 children. The cause is still unknown, but researchers are focusing on a possible link between environmental toxins and autism. Dr. Claudia Miller says toxins like pesticides could be especially dangerous during pregnancy. "There's so much we don't know about the long term and short term effects of pesticides on the developing child."

Miller's research focuses on what's called gene environmental interactions. She says genes alone aren't responsible for causing autism. Environmental toxins may also be a culprit. "Our understanding of the gene, the actual delineation of the human genome is only in the last few years and we're a long way from figuring out which genes are involved with detoxification of particular exposures." 

Stephanie Castor is in the final weeks of her pregnancy. She's been extremely cautious about what cleaners and pesticides she keeps in her home...something Dr. Miller says all pregnant women should do. "I instinctively knew to stay away from things that had many powerful odors, vapors. And I just always read labels in general."

Dr. Miller also suggests making simple changes to your cleaning products like using fragrance-free laundry detergents and fabric softeners.  Also, switch from bleach and other strong cleaning products to vinegar and baking soda.

And while some may think making these changes are overly cautious, Dr. Miller says better to err on the side of safety.