by Michael Hotchkiss June 22, 2012
Expectant mothers who dealt with the strain of a hurricane or major tropical storm passing nearby during their pregnancy had children who were at elevated risk for abnormal health conditions at birth, according to a study led by a Princeton University researcher that offers new insights into the effects of stress on pregnancy.
The study used birth records from Texas and meteorological information to identify children born in the state between 1996 and 2008 whose mothers were in the path of a major tropical storm or hurricane during pregnancy. The children's health at birth was compared with that of siblings whose gestation didn't coincide with a major weather event.
The study found that mothers living within 30 kilometers of a hurricane's path during their third trimester were 60 percent more likely to have a newborn with abnormal conditions, which are detailed on birth records. Those conditions included being on a ventilator for more than 30 minutes or experiencing meconium aspiration, which occurs when a newborn breathes in a mixture of meconium — or early feces — and amniotic fluid around the time of delivery. Increased risk was also found following exposure to weather-related stressors in the first trimester, while evidence was less clear for exposure in the second trimester. The researchers were able to isolate the impact of stress caused by the storm from other factors, such as changes in the availability of health care in a storm's aftermath.