Women with intellectual and developmental disabilities like autism and Down syndrome have nearly double the rate of having another baby within a year of delivering compared to women without such disabilities, indicating a lack of access to reproductive planning, a new study has found.

Pregnancy within one year of a previous live birth is associated with smaller babies, preterm birth, neonatal death and other adverse effects.

The findings suggested that rapid repeat pregnancies in women with intellectual and developmental disabilities ended in induced abortion (49 per cent), live birth (33 per cent) and pregnancy loss (18 per cent), compared with induced abortion (59 per cent), pregnancy loss (22 per cent) and live births (19 per cent) in women without these disabilities.

This also indicated a lack of access to reproductive health care, such as pregnancy planning and contraception, the researchers said.

“Women with intellectual and developmental disabilities are more likely than those without such disabilities to be young and disadvantaged in each marker of social, health, and health care disparities,” said lead author Hilary Brown, scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) — a Canada based non-profit organisation.

“They experience high rates of poverty and chronic physical and mental illness, and have poor access to primary care,” she added.

Researchers, in the paper published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), analysed data on 2,855 women with intellectual and developmental disabilities compared with 923,367 women without such disabilities.

They found that 7.6 per cent of women with these disabilities had another baby within a year, compared to 3.9 per cent of women without these disabilities.

“The study shows that current efforts to promote reproductive health might not be reaching women with intellectual and developmental disabilities and that there is a lot more we can do to educate and support these women in relation to pregnancy planning and contraception,” Brown noted.