Can a Hurricane Make Pregnant Women Go Into Labor? Why It’s True

As hurricanes bring high winds, storm surges, flooding, and evacuation plans, local hospitals may see another kind of surge. People have long said that a hurricane can make pregnant women go into labor. It sounds like an old wives’ tale. But scientists have found several reasons why a hospital in the path of a major storm might see a larger-than-expected number of women going into labor and giving birth.

Ahead, learn what you need to know about whether a hurricane can induce labor. And discover what you or a loved one would need to do if you find yourself in this high-stress situation.

A drop in barometric pressure can induce labor

Pregnant woman with her doctor

Can a hurricane induce labor? | Vasyl Dolmatov/ iStock/ Getty Images Plus

Nurses say that when a hurricane brings a drop in barometric pressure, that can cause a pregnant woman’s water to break, The Charlotte Observer reports. A 2007 study published in The International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics found that “low barometric pressure induces rupture of the fetal membranes and delivery.” And the study concluded that low barometric pressure can induce delivery.

And while it’s not quite as recent, a 1985 study in The Journal of Reproductive Medicine found a significant increase in the number of women whose water broke just three hours after barometric pressure fell. The rupture of membranes, or water breaking, typically signals that labor will begin soon.

Other meteorologic conditions can affect labor, too

You don’t have to wait for a hurricane to see how weather can affect pregnancy and delivery. The Atlantic reports that there is evidence that more women deliver babies at low barometric pressure, “one of the key atmospheric conditions associated with a hurricane.” But the publication notes that other meteorologic conditions can affect pregnancy outcomes, too.

The publication explains that “In desert climates, according to one study, the risk of preterm birth is higher in the spring and autumn, when the weather is most unstable.” Scientists have also noted that unusually hot or cold weather can affect babies’ birth weight. Plus, weather can cause all kinds of logistical problems for expectant mothers who need to get to the hospital in a storm. (Rain or snow can make finding a route to the hospital a challenge.)

Stress can also affect pregnancy outcomes

Pregnant couple at home

A pregnant couple relaxes at home. | jacoblund/ iStock/ Getty Images Plus

The Atlantic reports a growing body of scientific literature “finds links between stressful events in pregnancy — including natural disasters — and poor birth outcomes.”  A 2013 study determined that even in cases where a hurricane doesn’t induce labor, exposure to a hurricane during pregnancy increases a baby’s likelihood of some abnormal conditions. Glamour notes that the same study also found a potential correlation between hurricane-induced stress and labor complications for expectant mothers who haven’t yet reached full term.

However, The Atlantic also reports that some researchers think that the biggest threat a hurricane poses to pregnant women is stress. People feel stress first because of their fear of the hurricane. And then the damage and disruption that follows the storm just cause more stress.  (A lack of access to safe food, clean water, or healthcare can also do harm.) One researcher told Glamour that while hurricanes can induce labor, “The mechanism isn’t low pressure, but stress.” She added, “High levels of stress can start the chemical cascade that leads to labor, leading to an increase in premature deliveries.”

The risks are higher for some women than for others

The Atlantic reports that when Hurricane Matthew approached, Miami-area hospitals allowed pregnant women to register for sheltering at the hospital. But they didn’t view all cases equally. Instead, they planned to give priority to women who were pregnant with twins or multiples, were at least 34 weeks pregnant, had been diagnosed with placental abnormalities, or had a history of preterm labor. When Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992, about 1,500 pregnant women flocked to hospitals. Some delivered during the storm. But most did not, The Atlantic reports.

Ultimately, scientists need to do more research. As The Atlantic notes, that some “studies have found less decisive links — or no links at all — between hurricanes and the onset of labor. “Many scientists agree the relationship between labor and hurricanes requires more study. Most women, even those who are approaching their due date, won’t deliver their babies just because a hurricane is approaching.”

You should still prepare when a hurricane approaches

For any expectant mothers in the path of a hurricane, it won’t hurt to prepare. Glamour advises packing a hospital bag to prepare for a storm. Stock up on essentials, from water and non-perishable foods to diapers and wipes, just in case. You should also choose a route to get to the hospital. (And have a backup plan, too.) Romper reports that you should stay in close contact with your doctor.

You should also know the early signs of labor. The Mayo Clinic reports that these signs can be subtle. They include an increase in vaginal discharge, the dilation of your cervix, feeling the baby drop lower, the rupture of membranes, and a regular pattern of contractions. Romper recommends that pregnant women should also buy emergency birth supplies, including “clean towels, sharp scissors, an infant bulb syringe, medical gloves, two white shoelaces, sheets and sanitary pads, and two blankets.”

Additionally, don’t ignore evacuation orders. And if your due date coincides with the storm, talk to your doctor about inducing early or staying at the hospital during the hurricane.

Read more: What Are the Most Costly Hurricanes, and How Can You Prepare for One?

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