Reproductive & Maternal Health Resource Center

Reproductive & Maternal Health Resource Center

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.
August 14, 2020
3 min read

Climate change linked to increased risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.
You've successfully added to your alerts. You will receive an email when new content is published.

Click Here to Manage Email Alerts

We were unable to process your request. Please try again later. If you continue to have this issue please contact

Maternal exposure to heat, ozone or fine particulate matter related to climate change was associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes such as preterm birth and low birth weight, according to a systematic review published in JAMA Network Open.

The link, based on findings from 57 studies containing data on nearly 32.8 million births, was observed in all regions of the United States. The effects of extreme heat and air pollution were especially pronounced among women with asthma and those who are Black, study co-author Nathaniel DeNicola, MD, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at George Washington University, told Healio Primary Care.

The quote is: “PCPs and OB-GYNs can … counsel about local air quality advisories to help pregnant women avoid times of highest exposure.” The source of the quote is Nathaniel DeNicola, MD.

“These findings add to what we already know about minority communities in the United States living in areas that are hotter than the surrounding areas,” DeNicola said. “Additionally, minority communities are more likely to be located near polluting industries, where proximity risks were identified.”

The studies showed that exposure to air pollution exacerbated by climate change increased the risk for preterm birth by a median of 11.5% (95% CI, 2–19); having an infant with a low birth weight by 10.8% (95% CI, 2–36); and experiencing stillbirth by 14.5% (95% CI, 6–23), according to the researchers. Exposure to heat during the entire pregnancy increased the risk for preterm birth by 15.8% (95% CI, 9–22) and having an infant with a low birth weight by 31% (95% CI, 13–49).

DeNicola said there are several ways that health care professionals can help pregnant women mitigate the health risks from climate change.

“We can call attention to heightened risk for dehydration during heat waves, or counsel about the most appropriate time of the day to exercise outdoors,” DeNicola said. “PCPs and OB-GYNs can also counsel about local air quality advisories to help pregnant women avoid times of highest exposure.”

Physicians can also consider advocating for climate change solutions, he continued.

In addition to pregnancy outcomes, previous research has shown that climate change is associated with a wide range of adverse health effects. Healio Primary Care compiled a list of stories about the health implications of climate change and how physicians can help address them:

Five ways climate change impacts health — and how clinicians can mitigate its effect

Healio asked physicians and researchers in what ways climate change is having an immediate impact on health. The experts also shared tips on how physicians can address the consequences of climate change. Read more.

Q&A: Facing climate change, ID clinicians must ‘expect the unexpected’

Healio spoke with Kacey C. Ernst, PhD, MPH, associate professor and undergraduate program director at the University of Arizona’s Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, to discuss how the effects of climate change can impact the field of infectious diseases. Read more
Extreme heat events may increase ESRD hospital admission, mortality risks

Extreme heat events were associated with an increased risk for hospital admissions and mortality among patients with end-stage renal disease, according to study results. Read more.

Climate change: A growing threat to children’s health

According to The Lancets annual update on health and climate change, the effects of a warming planet will be particularly harmful to children. Healio spoke with experts about these potential effects. Read more.

Air pollution may accelerate emphysema progression

Long-term exposure to common air pollutants is associated with significant progression of emphysema, according to an 18-year study published in JAMA. Read more.

Climate change may impact congenital heart defect risk

A study has linked maternal exposure to extreme heat during the early weeks of pregnancy with increased risk for future congenital heart defects. Read more.

Climate change poses large-scale threat to mental health

Using meteorological data plus sampling data from almost 2 million U.S. residents across a 10-year span, researchers found that both hotter temperatures and added precipitation worsen mental health. Read more.

Climate change may contribute to rising rates of chronic kidney disease

Climate change may be accelerating rates of chronic kidney disease caused by dehydration and heat stress, according to research published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. Read more.

Dermatologist shares tips to tackle climate change

Healio spoke with Sarah J. Coates, MD, from the department of dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues about her clinical focus at the intersection of climate change, public health and dermatology. Read more.