When I was pregnant with my daughter Ursula, I followed a strict vegan diet and had lots of people asking how safe it was. Vegans are used to getting all sorts of questions about our health. When you’re pregnant as well, you’re bound to get folks asking about how safe a vegan pregnancy is for baby. I thought I’d quickly answer one of the most common concerns for pregnant vegans and their families: does a vegan pregnancy cause autism?
There is no evidence to suggest that vegan pregnancies are more at risk of producing a child with autism. I looked at several studies to find out if a vegan pregnancy causes autism and no evidence supports the idea. I also looked into what does cause autism. Autism has no single no cause and most of the known risk factors do not involve veganism. There is, however, some early research suggesting that a diet high in processed foods could increase the risks of autism.
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What evidence is there that a vegan pregnancy causes autism?
There is currently no evidence specifically linking vegan pregnancies with autism.
Early research suggests that there could be a link between autism spectrum condition and women who had imbalanced diets before becoming pregnant. This is the case whether the diets included lots of vegetables and little to no meat, OR lots of meat and very few vegetables. The trial itself was very small, however. Only 374 children on the austism spectrum were studied and 354 in the neurotypical control group. The researchers concluded that there may be some link between diet and autism but that more extensive research is needed to make a conclusion.
Meanwhile, research into processed foods has suggested a possible link to autism. The researchers found that high levels of the preservative PPA could damage vital neurons and pathways in the brain. Although the study was only on mice, the scientists believe the results are worth investigating in a future study into maternal diet.
Why do people think a vegan pregnancy causes autism?
I found no evidence to support this claim but it does seem to be a common question. I found three indirect links between autism and a vegan pregnancy:
- A vitamin B12 deficiency can cause symptoms and behaviours that sometimes get wrongly diagnosed as autism. Vegans and vegetarians often struggle to get sufficient levels of B12 in their diets. Therefore the children of pregnant vegans may be more likely to have B12 deficiency.
- Early research shows that many genuinely autistic people have excessive levels of B12 in their systems. The possible link has not yet been discovered. However, researchers are trying to find out if B12 supplements are to blame. Vegans are more like likely to take supplements to boost the vitamins they lack in their diet, including B12. Perhaps that’s why some people have made a link.
- A casein-free diet is alleged to help autistic people feel more balanced, so some autistic adults who are already vegetarian may convert to veganism for health reasons. Since autism is genetic, their child may be born on the spectrum anyway but others may wrongly assume the veganism caused it.
Do remember though that correlation does not equal causation and none of these facts mean that a vegan pregnancy causes autism.
Can poor nutrition during pregnancy cause autism?
There is some evidence to suggest that an imbalanced diet is connected with autism. Further evidence shows that eating a lot of processed foods could lead to a child with ASD. These studies are small and limited, but we do know that what you eat during pregnancy affects your baby.
One of the above studies concluded that taking a calcium supplement during pregnancy could lower the risk of your baby having autism. If you’d like to find out more about what vegan pregnancy supplements you should consider taking, check out my supplement guide HERE.
The key to a pregnancy that is healthy all-round for both mother and baby is balance. There are both vegans and omnivores with nutrient-poor diets. Ultimately it’s about making sure you are getting all the nutrients both you and your baby need. I’ve taken the hard work of researching all that of your hands and created a free vegan pregnancy nutrition guide. It will tell you exactly what plant-based foods to eat to make sure you get all the vitamins and minerals you need.
You can read more about how to have a healthy vegan pregnancy HERE.
What increases your chances of having a baby with autism?
There is no one thing that causes autism or ASC. So far all the research suggests that a combination of genetic and environmental factors combine to increased the risk of a child developing autism. Some of these increased risk factors include:
- One or more older parents (advanced parental age)
- Pregnancies that occured quickly after another and are spaced less than one year apart
- Birth complications including premature birth (before 26 weeks) and low birth weight
- Multiple pregnancies e.g. twins, triplets etc
- One or more parents being on the autism spectrum themselves or having close relatives on the spectrum
It’s important to remember though that “risk” is another word for “chance”. Having any or even all of the above factors doesn’t mean your child will definitely develop ASC. And even if they do, I am autistic and I’m pretty awesome, actually!
How can I reduce my risk of autism during pregnancy?
Firstly, I want to say that people with autism spectrum condition are just as valuable as neurotypical people. Autistic lives are just as precious as anyone else’s and autistic kids are amazing. That said, as a neurodivergent in a neurotypical world is hard work. As such, many pregnant women do want to know how to reduce their chances of having a baby with autism.
Some evidence suggests that a 300mg daily dose of DHA omega-3 fatty acids could reduce the risk of autism. As I mentioned, taking a calcium supplement could do the same.
If you consider the research into processed food, your diet should be ideally be mostly whole foods. That basically means most of your meals are made from scratch using foods in their purest form. Making sure you have a good balance of nutrients is also important.
Of course eating whole foods often relies on social privilege. I don’t want to shame anyone who struggles to afford nutritionally-rich foods. Do the best you can according to your means.
Can stress in pregnancy cause autism?
There is no evidence that stress during pregnancy causes autism.
Is autism more common in a first-born baby?
One study found that first-born children were 30% more likely to develop autism than the second-born sibling. They were 70% more likely to have ASD than a third-born. The researchers were unsure of why this might be the case.
Can late pregnancy cause autism?
What are the signs of autism in pregnancy?
It is not possible to diagnose autism during pregnancy. There aren’t any signs or symptoms of autism that the mother could detect during pregnancy. Autism is only possible to diagnose once the child is approximately 18 months to 2 years. Even then this is only reliable under the observation of a professional.
Does dairy cause autism?
There is no strong evidence to support a link between dairy and autism. This myth was popularised by animal rights charity PETA, but it has since been debunked.
I hope this article answered your questions about vegan pregnancy and autism. Don’t forget to claim your free vegan pregnancy nutrition guide below and check out my article on vegan pregnancy supplements.