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Not all impacts of climate change result in flooding or drought.  A recent study found worsening climate-related factors could increase pregnancy risks across the country.

Climate change can be a health challenge to people of any age.  Pregnancy is a particularly sensitive time for mother and child.  In an adverse environment, the health of both mom and baby are threatened. Published in JAMA Open Network, the new research analyzed 68 studies conducted since 2007 that offer data on more than 32 million US births.

Some of the compelling points of the study include:

  • Exposure to air pollution and heat drive up the number of poor birth outcomes.
  • Minority communities are more often affected by climate change factors because they may live in disproportionately warmer locations with less green space, sometimes termed “heat islands.” As well, minority neighborhoods may be located more closely to industrial parks and facilities, increasing exposure to noxious and toxic chemicals.
  • While it is easy to grasp that heat is uncomfortable and toxic air is not desirable, it is important to understand how the physiology of damage from climate change really works. The study discusses how excessive heat can trigger premature labor by destabilizing hormones and affecting the viscosity of blood. Heat impacts blood flow in the uterus, reducing flow in the placenta as well. Dehydration caused by heat may chronically lower the volume of amniotic fluid, cause placental abruption, premature birth, or stillbirth.
  • When hot stale air is held in by greenhouse gases, pollution and ground ozone indices rise. Inhalation of small particulate in the air increases the exposure of the fetus to dangerous chemicals that may impact the development of the nervous system, pulmonary function, and other major body systems.  Chronic exposure to pollutants increase the level of inflammation in both mom and baby and can have an acute or longer term effect on the cardiac function of mom. Like heat, air pollution can cause lifetime organ or respiratory difficulties, or result in premature or still birth.
  • Pregnant women with co-morbidities and their children face greater health risks, including moms with asthma.

The US already lags behind other developed countries in the bid to reduce maternal and fetal mortality.  On an increasingly heated and restive planet, pregnant women and the next generation of children are already facing predictable and untenable health challenges due to climate change and how we are—and are not—addressing it.

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