Extreme Heat Threatens Babies In Utero

Just a couple of weeks ago we wrote about a study that revealed that a child born today will experience a world that is more than 4˚C warmer by the time they turn 71 years old, which will threaten their health at every stage of their life. Now, a new study shows that climate change can threaten the lives of  children before they’re even born.

According to a new study published in Nature Climate Change, rising temperatures may have a direct impact on human gestational time, increasing the risk of early delivery.

The Study: As Time explained,

Babies are considered premature when they are born at 37 weeks or earlier. But delivery between 37 and 40 weeks is still not considered ideal, with late-term births correlated to lower birthweight and even potential cognitive development problems later in life. Many variables can cause an otherwise healthy pregnancy to come to term earlier than it should—one is extreme heat.

Extreme Heat an Extreme Danger: The Guardian noted that extreme heat cannot be underestimated. Extreme heat days are more than just inconvenient, they’re threat to our health as well as to babies still in utero.

  • In the US, about 25,000 babies were born up to two weeks early each year as a result of heatwaves between 1969 and 1988, according to the research published in Nature Climate Change (NCC).
  • Childbirth rates increased by 5% on days when temperatures reached 90F, but access to air conditioning mitigated three-quarters of the impact of heat exposure.
  • Across the world, hot days are getting hotter and more frequent as a result of global heating.
  • In later life, these slightly early babies are more likely to have respiratory problems and higher blood pressure, as well as an increased risk of psychiatric and neurological conditions.

The Specifics: It’s still not clear which biological mechanisms are extreme heat impacts to affect pregnancy.

  • It’s possible heat leads to cardiovascular stress in the mother that in turn causes the body to go into labor early.
  • Another possibility is that high temperatures may trigger an increase in levels of the hormone oxytocin, which plays a role in both labor and, later, lactation.

Why This Matters: This is a literal case of older generations stealing  the future from younger ones. Every person (but definitely every parent) should care about the state of the planet that they are leaving their children. This means that we can’t just look at studies like this, say “how awful” and move on. We must vote for lawmakers who are first and foremost willing to take bold action to protect our kids. We have to talk about climate change with our networks with the urgency it deserves–as if your kids’ lives are depending on it (they are!). 

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