The Childbirth / Autism / Erectile Dysfunction Connection


Today has been World Autism Awareness Day, and Kim Stagliano despises it. The mother of three autistic daughters, she finds the  “feel-good frippery” and air of festivity around the globe — with the rallies, events, balloons, and everything in blue (even the Eiffel Tower) — suggests a party rather than a crisis.

Good intentions aren’t in question: Autism Speaks talks about World Autism Awareness Day as an event that “celebrates the unique talents and skills of persons with autism.” Yet Stagliano bristles at the jovial tone of April (Autism Awareness Month), and the suggestion that “the circumstances of my daughters’ existences are to be celebrated. For me, this should be a month of solemn acknowledgement and education about a global crisis.”

Stagliano points out the sharp rise in autism over the past decade, and notes MIT scientist Stephanie Seneff’s prediction that by 2025, half of all children will be born with autism.

I offer my thoughts here with the deepest compassion for Kim’s daily trials with the realities of autism, and in the spirit of her call for education about a global crisis. It’s doubtful we will find a single “magic bullet” reason for autism, but rather a complex causal tapestry of many threads in different combinations.

Dr. Seneff’s dire prediction is related to the herbicide glyphosate (RoundUp), whose prevalence in the U.S. environment has risen in step with the rise of autism rates. Then there is the puzzling, polarizing question of the role of vaccines (and the chemicals used to preserve and deliver them). Environmental toxins of many kinds will surely be found to contribute to the neural circuitry disruptions underlying autism.

Here is what I (and many others) believe will also be found as a warp thread in the causal tapestry of autism.

Oxytocin, Love and Autism

In his primal health research, birth reform pioneer and physician Michel Odent has adopted a revealing new lens by looking at a central feature of autism — which he terms “an impaired capacity to love.” When he used this novel perspective from which to survey a wide range of supposedly disparate research — on juvenile violent criminality, teen suicide, and autism — he found something striking: “[W]hen researchers explored the background of people who have expressed some sort of impaired capacity to love — either love of oneself or love of others—they always detected risk factors in the period surrounding birth.”

Odent points out a bleak reality: women are losing the capacity to give birth. He makes the compelling case that this is happening thanks to the systematic (yet unconscious) disuse — and thus, atrophy — of our human oxytocin system over the past few decades.

When we administer synthetic oxytocin (e.g. Pitocin) for any reason — but most commonly to a laboring woman, to “just get things going” — it alters the intricate rhythms and balance of her body’s internal oxytocin system. This in turn alters the baby’s nascent oxytocin system. Oxytocin is central to our “capacity to love.”

When human connection takes a back seat to solitary pursuits and digital distraction as it does more and more in our era, the oxytocin system of an entire culture wilts and ebbs.

…and Erections…?

The Childbirth - Autism - ErectionOdent draws stunning parallels between the decline in physiologically normal births, the increase in autism and (forgive the pun) the rise in male erectile dysfunction. Those all rely on the same system: without oxytocin there is no physiologically normal birth, no human empathy, and no intercourse!

I spotlighted a few of Odent’s perspectives in my report on the research finding a connection between induced labor and autism risk. I also quoted him in a chapter I co-authored for a textbook women’s reproductive mental health. In our chapter “Pre- and Perinatal Influences on Female Mental Health,” Dr. Odent’s prescient insights emerge as key points. Here’s one example of how Odent traces the similar rise of depression rates and the use of synthetic oxytocin in birth (and sorry — please excuse the textbook-y language!):

Given the gender gap of depression and the fact that twice as many women as men suffer from major clinical depression — one woman in eight experiences at least episode in her lifetime — it is relevant to include Odent’s observation that the rate of college students reporting they’ve been diagnosed with depression has risen from 10% to 21% in just eleven years! Acknowledging the complex causal tapestry involved in depression, he urges us to consider that in that same decade, 2000-2011, “it was a time when the number of women who were able to give birth to their baby and to the placenta thanks only to the release of their natural hormones dramatically decreased.” He reminds us that depression is related to how stress-axis “set points” are established in the pre- and perinatal period, pointing out the myriad brain areas showing altered activity in depressed subjects that have an important phase of development and “set point” adjustment during the period surrounding birth.

An Audience with Michel Odent

I was privileged to have the opportunity to be one of a small number of people at a session of Michel Odent’s Mid-Pacific Conference on Birth & Primal Health Research. Thanks to his important book Birth and the Future of Homo Sapiens… and the fact that his London book launch event was videoed… you have the opportunity to listen firsthand to this visionary thinker talk about these oh-so-important topics!  Provided you can understand him (the author of this excellent UK Telegraph article writes that Odent’s French accent is “as thick as a ripe Brie”), it is a master class in visionary thinking about the future of humanity.


What Does It Mean for Autism In MY Life??

Whenever discussing possible contributing factors to any challenging condition, especially regarding children, I want to be VERY clear: this is not about blame, this is not about  guiltthis is not about tallying up everything you or I or cousin Betsy might have done differently, or “better.” This is about compassionately and tenderly looking at the big picture of our shared human family, how we may have gotten ourselves into some painful places, and how we might begin to make some healthier choices going forward.

Also, Dr. Odent cautions us (with respect to our tendency to anguish over studies like the one linking labor induction to autism risk) that when reading about such studies…  or listening him talk about any of the conditions he is researching through a primal health lens…you cannot be thinking of your own family, your friends, or your neighbor’s cousin’s autistic son. These are population-based (epidemiological) studies that reach conclusions in terms of tendencies, risk factors and statistically significant differences amongst huge numbers of people. It is not appropriate or valid (although it is always tempting) to apply these autism risk findings to specific individual cases!

Contrary to one of the many vitriolic comments to the above-linked Telegraph article, this is the reason he says his new book is NOT meant to be read by pregnant mothers: it’s too big a picture, and too bleak, for a pregnant mother to be focusing on as she’s communing so intimately with her new little one. Indeed, Michel Odent is the first one to promote chronic JOY in the lives of pregnant women.

The rest of us, though, best get our heads out of the sand and look at the big… the really big… unified picture of birth — and autism — and erections — and the future of us all. Knowledge is power, or at least it can be, if we take heart and take action.

We owe it to all the Kims of the world, and their sons and daughters.


 ***** I will be on a panel with Dr. Odent exploring the question, “What kind
of humans are we growing?” — at the upcoming BirthKeeper Summit *****


theogeo through a Creative Commons license

5 thoughts on “The Childbirth / Autism / Erectile Dysfunction Connection”

  1. “Impaired capacity to love” is perhaps the most virulently hateful thing I have ever heard spoken about another human being, let alone an entire population. I have known scores of people with Autism, ranging from children to adults, throughout my entire life and every single one of them was both loving and loveable. Some were quite a bit MORE loving than the general run of people I meet in life.
    This is hate speech. You are spewing HATE SPEECH.

  2. As soon as you even made mention of vaccines having ANYTHING to do with autism, the rest of the post lost credibility and relevance. What a shame.

  3. Communication is the cradle of life and love, the ability to communicate with others is quite impaired in autistic children… of course they can be lovable and impressively smart, but the awareness of who the other is seems often impaired.
    Birth interventions, especially induction a week prior to the due date, have been associated with more autism outcomes than births on their own timing and with no interventions (Michel Odent’s Birth and Primal Health Research data base has many articles about that topic). And no, this is not hate speech.
    It’s a sad, sad correlation. I have been around autistic children – a niece of mine is autistic – and see how the nightmare/anguish of most parents of autistic children is “Who is going to take care of him/her after I’m gone?”

    Shannon, I know Marcy Axness personally and can assure you that she’s goodhearted and remarkably skilled at understanding others. Engage in a dialogue with her and you’ll probably find out that you both agree on more aspects that you disagree regarding autism (and other parenting themes).
    Venomous discussions often start when people come from different philosophical backgrounds and interpret each other’s words with different ideological “grammars.”

  4. Correlation is NOT causation.

    All the latest research points to a STRONG genetic link. Could it be (just one possibility) that pregnant women who are unknowingly on the spectrum have a harder time advocating for themselves when receiving medical care, the same way MOST people on the autism spectrum do? That they would be MOST vulnerable to practices like induction & resulting emergency c-section? That’s just one possiblity.

    Another possible factor Odent doesn’t appear to rule out is PTSD, even though he’s looking at juvenile violent criminality & teen suicide. A traumatized mother may check-out & go along with whatever her doctor says. I’ve seen it more than once with friends. Parents with untreated PTSD can often traumatize their children, which is a known risk factor for things like juvenile violent criminality & teen suicide. And just for fun, go read up on how many diagnosed autistics suffer from PTSD, & then wonder about all the undiagnosed autistics.

    Even the hypothesis that babies born by c-section may develop differently due to a lack of gut flora from the mother’s vagina – which doesn’t have much scientific standing YET – still is more plausible than what is being presented in this article. I’m disappointed. I was a real fan of Odent’s.

    And I am the mother of a child on the spectrum. He was birthed at home with zero intervention & delayed vaccination. His autism showed from the start, and now that I’m more educated about it, I can see the traits all throughout my & my husband’s families.

    The numbers HAVE jumped up sharply, but interestingly, they have done so in direct proportion to the elimination of other, outdated diagoses, as our researchers have come to better understand Autism Spectrum Disorders & what all really should fall under that umbrella. The higher numbers of diagnosis didn’t appear out of nowhere. The numbers just shifted from elsewhere. Also, many parents of autistic children are being diagnosed after their kids. And many more suspect they’re on the spectrum but will not be formally diagnosed, because it is cost-prohibitive (thousands of US dollars, just for assessment).

    So while Autism Speaks (a group that refuses voice to actual autistic people, by the way) drums up millions of dollars with their well-publicized panic, it’s really much ado about nothing. Do autistic people & caretaker parents need support? ABSOLUTELY. But very little of the funds they raise actually go toward supports for families & individuals on the spectrum. And the things they say about our kids are terrible.

    Along those lines, I also agree that “impaired capacity to love” is hate speech. Impaired ability to communicate feelings? Sure. But “impaired capacity to love?” Talk to any autistic adult, & you’ll find that’s not the case. If anything, autistic people tend to be overwhelmed by intense emotion the same as they are with external sensory input. Neurotypical people need to learn the difference, because if our children hear us mistakenly describe them as unable to love, well, imagine how crushing that is for them. Or just ask an autistic adult who has experienced it.

    And Mothering, as a publication & community that supports attachment parenting, I would expect something more empathetic toward autistic people. We are supposed to be the ones with empathy, no? And parents who subscribe to attachment parenting might just have a little extra. 😉

    Autistic people should be valued instead of seen as defective. Especially during Autism Awareness month, it would be great for you to highlight actual autistic voices instead of those (even community heroes) spouting unproven hypotheses about causes & cure. You can find lots of great people willing to contribute at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network & the Autstic Women’s Network. These communities of autistic adults are where our children will feel safe. Where they will feel heard. Will we listen in 20 years, when they’re there, or can we listen now?

  5. Thank you, Heather, Laura, Elisha and Shannon for these thought-provoking comments. Working backwards:

    Heather, you are clearly very knowledgeable and you raise some excellent points, such as the mounting evidence for a genetic link, the interesting PTSD theory, and the diagnostic refinement aspect. You are correct that correlation does not mean causation, and as I said above, I highly doubt we will ever discover simple causation for autism; rather, highly complex, perhaps idiosyncratic, causal tapestries (i.e., correlational constellations). My essay here wasn’t meant to be a comprehensive review of the research, but rather to bring up the (rarely mentioned) oxytocin piece of the puzzle. (I have no doubt, for example, that Odent would embrace and agree with your mention of the gut-flora deficiency in babies born via C-section.)
    Laura, thank you for your lyrical support.

    Elisha, please note that I referred to the puzzling, polarizing QUESTION re: the role of vaccines. To echo Heather, correlation is not causation, and while there are now studies now proving that vaccines don’t cause autism, it is far more difficult to rule out any kind of environmental stressor as a contributor to ANY of the complex and serious conditions whose rates are rising in our global family.

    And Shannon, I can certainly understand your response to Dr. Odent’s terminology. Laura points out well the limits of language, and whether it is Odent’s Frenchness or his inclination toward an epidemiological rather than individual perspective — which can come off as insensitive — his phrase has clearly not translated or landed constructively here. I will refrain from possibly digging an even deeper hole by attempting to clarify on HIS behalf, but for my part I would say that maybe distinguishing between “love” and “ability to *express* love” could be appropriate?

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