Rising temperatures caused by climate change could trigger a worldwide increase in stillbirths, researchers warn.
The team at the University of Queensland in Australia analyzed 12 studies on the subject. They found that exposure to extremely high temperatures throughout pregnancy appeared to increase risk of stillbirth, particularly late in pregnancy.
"Overall, risk of stillbirth appears to increase when the ambient temperature is below 15 degrees Celsius [59 degrees Fahrenheit] and above 23.4 degrees Celsius [74 degrees F], with the highest risk being above 29.4 degrees Celsius [85 degrees F]," said lead researcher Jessica Sexton. She is a PhD candidate in Queensland's School of Earth and Environmental Science and the Mater Research Institute.
"An estimated 17% to 19% of stillbirths are potentially attributable to chronic exposure to extreme hot and cold temperatures during pregnancy," Sexton said in a university news release.
The findings suggest that the risk of stillbirth worldwide will increase as global temperatures rise due to climate change, according to the report published recently in the journal Environmental Research.
"But these findings are from the very limited research currently available, so expectant mothers shouldn't be anxious - there's still plenty of follow-up research that needs to happen," Sexton noted.
The increased risk of stillbirth due to rising temperatures will be highest in developing countries, according to environmental scientist Scott Lieske.
"More than 2 million stillbirths occur every year around the world, with the most occurring in low-resource settings," Lieske said in the news release. "Not only are these poorer countries already affected disproportionately by stillbirth, they're now going to be disproportionately affected by climate change as well."
He warned that if "the link apparent in this research bears out upon further scrutiny, the majority of new stillbirths will occur invariably in the nations already suffering the most."
The findings show the importance of research to reduce stillbirth rates worldwide, said Vicki Flenady, director of the Centre of Research Excellence in Stillbirth at Mater Research.
"Even in 2021, a stillbirth occurs somewhere in the world every 16 seconds," Flenady said. "Stillbirth has a traumatic long-lasting impact on women and their families, who often endure profound psychological suffering as well as stigma, even in high-income countries."
The March of Dimes has more on stillbirth.
SOURCE: University of Queensland, news release, May 23, 2021