Climate change and hot weather prompting early labor leading to over 25,000 premature births in the US, says study
Hot spells, which could be a risk factor for early deliveries, puts children born just two or three weeks early at slightly higher risks of respiratory problems, like asthma, later in childhood, say scientists.
Global warming is now taking a toll on babies, to an extent that about 25,000 of them are being born a little early every year, suggests a new study.
Hot spells could be a risk factor for early deliveries, according to the authors of the study. This happens because exposure to heat could increase the mother’s level of oxytocin, which could, in turn, induce labor, say scientists. "Given recent increases in the frequency of extremely hot weather, there is a clear need to better forecast the potential magnitude of climate change's impact on infant health at the national level," says the study.
These children are prone to health issues. "Children born just two or three weeks early are at slightly higher risks of respiratory problems such as asthma later in childhood. "About 1 in 10 children in the US are born more than three weeks before their due date, which qualifies them as “preterm” and puts them at higher risks for much worse outcomes," the author of the study, Alan Barreca, an associate professor of environmental economics, University of California, Los Angeles, wrote in The Conversation.
Infant health is much worse today in hotter parts of the US, like Louisiana, shows analysis. Barreca and team wanted to understand what was driving the trend. Accordingly, the research team set out to test how weather had some influence on fetal health. As earlier tests included only few participants, the researchers wanted to perform an exhaustive study. To that end, the team gathered 56 million birth records from the US from 1969 to 1988. They also factored in daily weather data to see if hot weather drives earlier deliveries.
The scientists then checked for a spike in births on hot days, and if there was a subsequent decrease in the following days. "For example, in a given county of the US, an increase in birth rates on the day of hot weather followed by a decrease two days later suggests that temperature had some role to play in reducing pregnancy lengths by two days, says the study.
From their analysis, the authors saw that hot weather caused early births in about 25,000 American babies born each year. While some babies were born six days earlier, others showed up two weeks before term.
"The risks for women delivering early are likely to increase in the coming years with climate change. Of course, the exact reductions in gestational length are difficult to predict because it’s unclear what our future world is going to look like once 90 degree-plus F (32 degree-plus C) days become much more frequent," says Barreca.
However, Barreca believes that more hot spells from climate change would induce about 42,000 additional deliveries annually in the US by the end of the century. That is more than one in every 100 births.
One posssible solution could be air conditioning, according to the study. "Without using greener air conditioners and renewable energy sources it will make climate change worse. Given air conditioning is costly, climate change is likely to not only be a threat to child health, but would also put a financial strain on many households’ tight budgets," explains Barreca.
The study is published in Nature Climate Change.