We’re hearing a lot about autism these days. New studies are linking dramatically increased autism rates with genetic mutations. Another study links autism with antidepressants and still more studies link it to environmental factors. At the same time, the FDA refuses to ban BPA, a chemical used in food packaging that’s linked to autism and other serious diseases. There’s still a strong camp focused on the supposed link between vaccinations and autism, even while we’re experiencing dramatically increased rates of whooping cough (Pertussis) in some parts of the country. Wow, that’s a lot to worry about.
Recent reports say 1 in 88 children will develop autism. This news is seriously freaking a lot of expectant parents out and I don’t blame them. Autism is known as a spectrum disorder, meaning some children will be only mildly affected (what we used to call “quirky” or “different”), but some will be disabled. Since we can’t put our finger on exactly what factors will or will not result in a disabled child, and since the government can’t guarantee our babies’ safety (nobody can guarantee that), it’s up to us to take care of our own.
How do we do that when we live in a world filled with chemicals, stress, depression, a messed up environment and oodles of diseases? We start tackling these overwhelming conditions where we live. Here are my five tips for what to do:
1. Dial down the fear factor – Yes, 1 in 88 is a daunting statistic. But, It also means 87 out of 88 babies will not develop autism. It’s easiest to focus on the worst-case scenario, but more often than not, it won’t happen. Even if your baby does fall “on the spectrum,” that doesn’t necessarily mean disability. It might mean your child will be a genius or incredibly sensitive, artistic, scientific, musical, or otherwise gifted (like Albert Einstein or Jane Austen – both suspected of being autistic). Will he also have characteristics that are socially or behaviorally awkward? It’s quite possible, but we live in a culture that’s slowly evolving to honor diversity in more and more ways. Will you love your child? That’s one thing we can guarantee. No matter who your child is, you will love him and pour your heart and soul into raising him to the best of his and your abilities.
2. Do some emotional housework- Stress and depression run rampant in our society, especially among women. We thought we’d fixed that with antidepressants, but now we’ve discovered they’re not so great when combined with pregnancy. What do you do if you’re depression-prone and pregnant? See your doctor, get a therapist, simplify your lifestyle, reduce stress, meditate, ask for help, exercise and do some serious soul searching. Ask yourself the hard questions: Why am I depressed? What do I need to change to take control of my life? What’s the first step I need to take?
Should you give up antidepressants? That’s between you and your doctor. Some women need them to survive. They really, really need them.
3. Change your environment – We may not be able to immediately change the environment outside our front door, but we can take steps today to change our environment at home. Throw out your plastic food storage containers and cups and cut back on food packaging. Clean with non-toxic, non-chemically laden cleaners. Ditch the weird stuff we use to make our houses smell different, like air fresheners, sanitizers, and aerosol sprays. Instead, use baking soda, lemon juice, vinegar, hot water or “green” cleaning products. Turn back time and clean like your great-grandma did with products that didn’t pollute.
4. Change your diet – You really are what you eat. Every bite you take gets absorbed into your bloodstream. Those dyes in your neon-colored gummy-candy, the chemicals coating your favorite chips and the fats, artificial flavors and preservatives in your processed, frozen, microwave lunch get stored in your body, are transferred through your placenta and are making their impression on the tiny little brain and body you’re growing in your uterus. If you’re a guy, they’re making an impression on your sperm. We’ve discovered that those genetic mutations now being linked to autism occur mostly in sperm. Since we don’t know why, the only thing we can do is support our bodies to create health.
5. Practice gratitude – yeah, I know that sounds oh-so-Oprah, but the lady knows what she’s talking about. Be grateful for every single opportunity, whether they’re hard (like raising an autistic child) or simple (like loving that child). Looking at your day, family, home, career, heck…your whole darn life, through grateful eyes, puts everything in perspective. Having a tough day? Be grateful you’re living that day. Have a challenging child? Be grateful you have that child. Whatever little thing (or big thing) you’re dealing with that’s making you fearful, worried, stressed, angry, or frustrated, say “thank you.” Take a deep breath, say it again and notice how your attitude changes. How does that apply to autistic children? We’re beginning to recognize the importance of examining our environment and diet, supporting all children and parents, and the intricate connections between the world outside our door and the world inside our bodies. For that, I’m grateful.
Oh, and about those vaccinations and the whooping cough epidemic – if you’re worried about the vaccine-autism connection, there seems to be enough evidence now to indicate they’re not at fault. Still, until we have definite answers about what does cause autism I don’t blame some parents for being afraid. We do know, however, if your baby gets certain vaccine-preventable diseases, she can get seriously (even life-threateningly) ill.
If the traditional approach to vaccination worries you, talk to your pediatrician about your concerns and the possibility of an alternate vaccination schedule (fewer vaccines at a time, starting when your child is a little older, or other variations), but don’t put your child at risk for developing dangerous, potentially fatal diseases, based on fear alone. And for God’s sake, if you do no other early infancy vaccinations, get a Pertussis vaccination for your baby, your self and anyone else who comes in contact with your child. Whooping cough can kill and disable babies by robbing them of oxygen. Don’t take that risk. The odds are too great.
Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to email@example.com and it may be answered in a future blog post.
This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.