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We already know that autistic people are more at risk of depression. About 50% of people living with autism will experience depression at some point in their life. Now, it seems it doesn't end there. New research shows that autistic women are more likely to experience depression and anxiety when pregnant than non-autistic women.
The study found that women with autism were about three times more likely to experience anxiety and depression during pregnancy than those without autism. While only 9% of non-autistic parents reported depression when pregnant, up to 24% of autistic moms said they felt depressed. Regarding anxiety, almost half of all autistic moms experienced prenatal anxiety whereas just 14% of those without autism felt the same.
Again, the mental health implications of autism do not end there.
Anxiety during pregnancy can cause complications such as preterm births.
The results also showed that pregnant women generally felt less satisfied with antenatal care. They didn't trust the doctors and thought the doctors didn't treat them with enough respect. Also, they reported not feeling very comfortable in the healthcare environment. It felt "overwhelming" to them.
The research shows just how vulnerable autistic women become when pregnant. For the average non-autistic woman, the nine months of pregnancy can be a very trying time riddled with fears, uncertainty, and health issues. Couple that with autism, anxiety, and depression, and you have a woman who seriously needs support.
It also provides insight into how doctors and ob-gyns can better care for their pregnant autistic patients. If a patient feels scared and overwhelmed in the clinic, the medical professional can help provide support and create an environment where the patient can feel more relaxed and better cared for. This can do so by adjusting how they communicate with the patient.
And very importantly, it would be best if doctors look out for anxiety and depression symptoms in their pregnant autistic patients. Of course, early detection is king.
The study was conducted by experts at the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge.