Pregnant women vulnerable to climate change impacts, researcher finds

A professor in the public health school found that extreme heat driven by global climate change could harm pregnant women and their babies.

Sabrina McCormick, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health, reviewed previous studies on the impact of extreme heat on pregnant women and found that heat exposure can led to changes in the gestation period and birth weight and can cause neonatal stress and increase the odds of a stillbirth, according to a release Tuesday from the Milken Institute School of Public Health.

“Expecting mothers are an important group whose unique vulnerability to heat stress should be factored into public health policy,” McCormick said in the release. “Exposure to extreme heat can harm both pregnant mothers and their babies, especially in situations where the expectant mother has limited access to prenatal care.”

Scientists have found climate change is likely to cause more intense and more frequent spells of extreme heat.

Leeann Kuehn, a recent alumna, assisted McCormick in reviewing previous articles relevant to the study, which was the most extensive survey yet of research into the impact of heat on expectant mothers and their babies, according to the release.

“Our study indicates that there is a need for further research on the ways that climate change, and heat in particular, affect maternal health and neonatal outcomes,” McCormick said. “The research also shows that uniform standards for assessing the effects of heat on maternal fetal health need to be established.”

The study “Heat Exposure and Maternal Health in the Face of Climate Change” was published July 29 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

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