Link Between Placenta And Family's Risk

Researchers have found a possible link between the appearance of the placenta at birth and a child’s risk of autism.

Newborn and mother

If you knew from birth that your child was more likely to have autism, you would be more aware of what to look for and could get help and intervention that much sooner. Now, researchers say that the appearance of the placenta may give parents and other professionals a clue from the beginning.

The great placenta

The placenta is an amazing organ that acts as nutrient uptake, waste elimination and gas exchange through the mother’s blood supply during pregnancy. For many moms, the placenta is whisked away after birth, never to be seen again, especially during a hospital birth. Other moms keep their placenta and either plant them in their yard (often under a bush or a tree) or have them encapsulated into pills for her to take during her postpartum period.

"Placentas from babies at risk for autism, clearly there’s something quite different about them"

However, it has been discovered that the placenta may hold clues to the child’s future. A study analyzed placentas from 217 births and found that those from families who have a high genetic risk of autism were markedly different than those of families with little to no risk. The difference? The placentas from the higher-risk families had more creases and folds in them.

“It’s quite stark,” said Dr. Cheryl K. Walker, a co-author of the study which was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry. “Placentas from babies at risk for autism, clearly there’s something quite different about them.”

The researchers will follow the families for the next several years to see how this theory pans out, and if it does, it will be significant knowledge for parents and the physicians who care for them. Usually placentas are not thoroughly examined unless there are complications or the death of a newborn, but in the future, it may become standard practice.

More on autism

Folic acid before pregnancy may reduce autism risk
Can you spot the early signs of autism?
Complications associated with having a baby later in life


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