The Dangers of Climate Change for the Pregnant and Pre-born

Posted on May 14, 2024 By

This is a follow-up to the author’s previous post, How Caring for the Earth Fits into the Consistent Life Ethic


by Christina Yao Pelliccioni

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, everyone will be affected by climate change, but some people will be affected more than others. Children, pregnant women, older adults, people who work outdoors, people with disabilities, and those with chronic medical conditions are at an increased risk. Social determinants, meaning social, economic, political, and environmental factors, weigh into how much of a risk climate change is to one’s health. Examples of these determinants include poverty, racial discrimination, a lack of access to healthcare or education, and an unhealthy or unsafe environment. To help those affected by climate change, NIEHS reports, we must first understand the risk and understand the population we want to help.

It intrigued me that NIEHS would list pregnant women as particularly at risk for climate change, so I decided to do some more research there. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, both pregnant women and their unborn babies are more vulnerable to threats made by climate change. Climate-related hazards such as heat, flooding, and wildfires have been linked to health problems such as anemia, eclampsia, low birth weight, preterm birth and miscarriage. Extreme weather events can also mean that pregnant women cannot get proper medical care, because of either lack of care available or lack of transportation. Climate change can also be linked to an increased risk of water, food, and insect-related illnesses. This can be linked to PTSD and Postpartum Depression.

Climate change can increase the amount of heavier rains, cause change in the air and wind temperatures, cause flooding and rising sea levels, and bring disease-carrying organisms into drinking and recreational waters. This can cause gastrointestinal and other diseases, which pregnant women are at an increased risk of contracting. Severe gastrointestinal disease can cause preterm birth and miscarriage. Flooding has been associated with conditions that threaten the health of pregnant women, such as anemia, preeclampsia, and eclampsia.

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Rising temperature and extreme weather events threaten food availability and safety. Food-borne illnesses such as listeria and toxoplasma can increase the risk of a baby being stillborn, premature, or miscarried. A lack of food security can prevent pregnant women from getting enough healthy food. This can lead to delivery problems, low birth weight, or infant mortality. A rise in temperature can lead to a rise in heart-related deaths among groups of vulnerable people, including pregnant women. Pregnant women are more prone to heat exhaustion and heart stroke. Pregnant women are also more sensitive to wildfire smoke, which can affect their babies, causing them to be born premature and/or with a low birth weight.

Rising temperatures will also cause an increase of diseases being transmitted by insects, such as mosquitoes. This most infamous case of this is with Zika virus, which can be passed from pregnant women to their babies. This can cause microcephaly.

Last but certainly not least, a study conducted after Hurricane Katrina found that pregnant women who had had a more traumatic hurricane experienced a significantly higher risk of past-partum depression and PTSD.

If we are going to truly be pro-life, we need to care about climate change. Like the NIEHS said, we need to learn about the needs of those most affected by climate change and do what we can to live greenly.


For more of our posts on the environment, see:

How Caring for the Earth Fits into the Consistent Life Ethic

Stewardship and the Consistent Life Ethic

Climate Change and the Consistent Life Ethic: An Opportunity to Connect Issues

Threats to the Unborn Beyond Abortion

Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate


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