Fact check: Do hurricanes really cause early labor?

A woman and her newborn baby lie on the floor in Tacloban Hospital on November 15, 2013 in Leyte, Philippines, during Typhoon Haiyan. (Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Do hurricanes cause early labor? And if so, is barometric pressure to blame?

“We know there is a connection between hurricanes and premature labor, miscarriages, and abnormal conditions for the baby after birth,” explains Hector Chapa, clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Texas A&M University College of Medicine.

“However, there is some debate about whether it is the barometric pressure from the hurricane system or the stress of living through a natural disaster that causes the correlation.”

A drop in barometric pressure is correlated with premature labor and ruptured membranes. However, as Chapa explains, a correlation between a drop in barometric pressure and premature labor does not mean one causes the other.

“The increase in preterm labor during a hurricane is most likely best attributed to the increase of physiological stress that the woman experiences during the storm,” Chapa explains. “Women even go into labor after the storm, because the recovery period can be just as stressful, depending on the situation.”

How to reduce the chance of preterm labor during a hurricane

“The best way to avoid spontaneous labor or other birth complications during a hurricane is to evacuate before the storm hits,” Chapa says. “With hurricanes, we often know days in advance when a storm is coming. If you completely remove yourself from the potential stressors of the storm and any possible drops in pressure, then you will reduce your chance of a complicated birth.”

He encourages everyone, pregnant or not, to heed evacuation warnings. If you cannot evacuate, he suggests sheltering in place, as long as it is safe, until the storm passes.

Another great way to reduce your chance of a preterm birth and other complications is to prepare for the storm in advance. “Disaster preparedness is important for everyone to understand, whether they are pregnant or not,” says Chapa. “Being properly prepared for a hurricane can ease the stress pregnant women feel during the storm.”

Gather your supplies

Most experts agree that it is important to pack a bag filled with all your essentials before the onset of a disaster. “Some key things to make sure you have include non-perishable food, plenty of water, and extra medications,” Chapa says. “Your go-kit, or your emergency bag, should have everything you need to keep your personal health in check if you suddenly get displaced.”

If you are pregnant, you should consider packing things you may need if you go into labor and cannot reach a hospital. The American College of Gynecology suggests the following items to pack in case you go into preterm labor during a hurricane:

  • 12 sanitary pads
  • 1 bottle
  • 1 newborn outfit and hat
  • 6 packets of sterile lubricant
  • 2 plastic newborn cord clamps
  • Sterilized scissors
  • 12 alcohol prep pads
  • 12 sterile gauze pads
  • 1 bulb syringe
  • 1 bottle of peroxide
  • Neonatal thermometer
  • Battery powered radio

Your emergency plans should also consider routes to the nearest hospital. “Women who are pregnant need to consider the fact that during or after a hurricane, their local hospital may be closed or overfilling,” Chapa says. “Keep a list of all local hospitals and the hospitals in the surrounding towns in case you go into preterm labor.”

Similarly, you should have an idea of possible shelters and family members who may be able to house you while you are displaced—and hospitals near those locations as well. If you arrive at a shelter, be sure to inform them of your pregnancy.

And then what?

“Many women go into stress-induced labor after the initial natural disaster,” Chapa says. “It is important to remain calm and pay attention to your stress levels.” He suggests returning home a few days after the storm to give the community a chance to get back on its feet. The stresses of a broken community can be enough to put a woman into labor.

He also recommends getting checked out by your OB-GYN. “Hurricanes and major life stresses have been correlated with abnormal birth conditions,” Chapa says. “After you experience a major trauma like a hurricane, it will not hurt to get a checkup. Your OB-GYN can make sure your baby and your mental health are both in good shape.”

Source: Texas A&M University