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Extreme Heat Threatens the Health of Unborn Babies

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And hot weather may affect a baby’s development in other ways: A 2021 analysis found a higher incidence of anomalies, such as cardiac defects, spina bifida, or cleft lip, at higher temperatures. A 2019 study took existing research that linked heat exposure to congenital heart defects and extrapolated how many such cases we can expect in the coming years: The authors estimated that over an 11-year period, an additional 7,000 babies will be born with congenital heart defects in the eight US states they studied. According to Bonell, there’s also early evidence from animals that heat stress may be triggering epigenetic changes linked to long-term adult chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

And in the United States, any potential harm to a fetus brings with it other concerns. Pregnant people, more than ever in a post-Roe world, are at risk of criminalization for behavior that may harm the fetus, particularly in states that recognize fetal personhood, which grants legal rights to a fetus from conception. “You might live in a state that criminalizes your adverse…

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