For Black women in the US — who are already at a higher risk of maternal mortality — climate change's impact on their pregnancies is now another concern.
Researchers say Black women and people with asthma in the country are at the highest risk of experiencing climate change-related pregnancy complications in an investigation released on June 18. Black and Indigenous communities have the highest rates of asthma compared to other races, making Black women even more susceptible.
A group associated with the American Medical Association examined 57 studies released since 2007, which included data about more than 32 million births for the review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), according to the New York Times.
Black mothers had a higher risk of preterm births in eight studies and an increased risk of low birth weight in 10 studies.
“We are already having generations weakened from birth,” Bruce Bekkar, a co-author of the investigation and a retired obstetrician, told the Guardian.
There is a whole generation of children being born “pre-polluted,” said Nathaniel DeNicola, the senior author of the study and an obstetrician and gynecologist, according to USA Today.
Data included in the review showed higher temperatures and pollution are both linked to premature, underweight, and stillborn deaths. Smog and pollution particle studies revealed a 42% increase in the risk of stillbirth if a mother had high exposure to air pollution during the last trimester of pregnancy.
When we began our research 3 years ago we never anticipated our @JAMANetworkOpen study would publish the day before #JUNETEENTH2020 . The message resonates now more than ever: maternal health and environmental justice are intertwined, and we have the opportunity for better policy— Dr.D (@NDeNicolaMD) June 19, 2020
While the environmental impacts of climate change put all pregnant women in danger, Black women in the US are more likely to live in urban areas where they are more vulnerable.
Statistics show marginalized communities are more likely to live in urban areas known as “heat islands” located in zones polluted by vehicle exhaust and power plants that are much hotter than rural areas. Marginalized communities are also less likely to afford air conditioning.
Bekkar told the Guardian he hopes health professionals will advise patients to avoid prolonged heat exposure and pollution based on the findings in his review. It’s also up to families to inquire about environmental risk factors and how they can individually address them. But real change will require health professionals calling on leaders to pass legislation to reduce the health burdens of the climate crisis, he said.
“We spend, as obstetricians, so much time counseling pregnant women about all these precautions," said DeNicola. "But there’s only so much [pregnant women] can do, they realistically cannot control the temperature outside or the air pollution that they encounter, and so, beyond the individual actions ... the real solutions are system solutions, and primarily those are controlled by policymakers.”