A new study by the University of Cambridge has found that autistic people are more likely to experience depression and anxiety during pregnancy.
Pregnancy is a time of change and affects women in a range of different ways. Depression and anxiety during pregnancy are as common as physical health conditions, body changes and relationship changes. Data has shown that one in five women will face mental health problems in pregnancy or after birth, but autistic people are even more vulnerable to mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety during pregnancy.
The research is published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders and highlights the extra support that autistic people may require during pregnancy.
What is autism?
Autism is something you are born with and affects how the brain works. It is not a medical condition, but some people will require extra support. It is a lifelong developmental disability, that affects how people interact and communicate. There are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.
Depression and anxiety in pregnancy and the link to autism
The researchers collaborated with the Autism Research Centre and surveyed 524 non-autistic people and 417 autistic people about their experience during pregnancy. The team invited anyone who was pregnant at the time of responding or had previously given birth.
The study found that autistic parents were three times more likely than non-autistic parents to experience prenatal depression and anxiety during pregnancy. The researchers found that only 9% of non-autistic parents face depression, compared to 24% of autistic parents and 14% of non-autistic parents faced anxiety compared with 48% of autistic parents.
Autistic interviewees also experienced lower satisfaction with pregnancy healthcare, they were also less likely to trust professionals and felt that they were not taken seriously. Furthermore, they were more likely to experience sensory issues during pregnancy and were more likely to feel overwhelmed by the sensory environment of prenatal appointments.
Dr Sarah Hampton, the lead researcher on the study, said: “This study suggests that autistic people are more vulnerable to mental health difficulties during pregnancy. It is imperative that effective mental health screening and support is available for autistic people during pregnancy.”
Dr Rosie Holt, a member of the research team, added: “The results also suggest that autistic people may benefit from accommodations to prenatal healthcare. These may include adjustments to the sensory environment of healthcare settings, as well as adjustments to how information is communicated during prenatal appointments.”
Dr Carrie Allison, Deputy Director of the Autism Research Centre and a member of the team, said: “We are grateful to members of the autistic community for providing feedback when we designed this research. It is vital that autistic people with lived experience help shape the research we do, and we keep their priorities as a clear focus.”
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre and a member of the research team, said: “It is important that more research is conducted looking at the experiences of autistic new parents, who have been neglected in research. It is also important that this research is translated into health and social care policy and practice to ensure these parents receive the support and adaptations they need in a timely manner.”