Global Warming's Impact on Pregnancy

Among developed countries, the US has some of the worst outcomes for people giving birth, and climate change is making the situation worse. The latest IPCC report included an entire section dedicated to the connection between maternal health to climate change for the first time. Extreme heat and other extreme weather events like hurricanes and floods, which are intensifying with climate change, can all lead to poor pregnancy outcomes and reduce access to prenatal care.

“What we know from the epidemiological research is that there are associations between these higher temperatures and low birth weight, stillbirths, and other adverse pregnancy outcomes,” Kristie Ebi, a lead author for the human health chapter, told The 19th.

CBS: Why pregnant women and their fetuses are increasingly at risk of climate change, November 9, 2021.

Why This Matters

There is currently limited guidance and support for pregnant people to cope with the increased risks posed by climate change. However, some cities do incorporate pregnant people into extreme heat plans, which coupled with robust early warning systems and coordination across city services can help protect people from high temperatures. More broadly, the increased risk for pregnant people is also a disparity multiplier for Black and brown parents, who are already more likely to live in an urban heat island or be breathing polluted air.

CNBC: Why Air Quality In The US Is So Bad, April 22, 2021.

Federal Funding Focus

The number of papers on rising temperatures and pregnancy outcomes has been increasing, and because the IPCC report reflects published research on climate change, the section on maternal health was added. Still, the field remains relatively unexamined by conventional research: the National Institutes of Health (NIH) dedicates only about 0.03% of its budget to climate change and health at all. President Biden’s proposed budget includes $110 million toward climate change and health, a significant increase but only 0.2% of the NIH’s budget.

“There’s only so much a community can do when you don’t have resources, and that’s human and financial resources,” Ebi stated.

Communities could be empowered to do more if the Protecting Moms and Babies Against Climate Change Act makes its way through Congress and becomes law. The bill, introduced in February, is part of the broader package of maternal health legislation called the Momnibus and would establish a dedicated Consortium on Birth and Climate Change Research at the NIH.

TED: End fossil fuels to protect human health | Carolyn Orr, March 1, 2022.

WW0: ​​Climate and Health Are Connected, January 26, 2021.