Heat linked to premature birth

Researchers are warning pregnant women to keep cool based on studies linking heat stress with premature birth.

College of Health & Biomedicine researcher Associate Professor Mary Carolan said preterm birth was an increasingly common and debilitating condition. Her review of academic literature on the issue showed evidence of an association between high environmental temperature and preterm birth of less than 37 weeks gestation.

"Rates appear to be linked to high environmental temperature, and more especially heat stress, which may be experienced during extreme heat or following a sudden rise in temperature," Associate Professor Carolan said. "When this happens, the body may be unable to adapt quickly to the change."

Associate Professor Carolan said as global warming continued, the incidence of high environmental temperature and dramatic temperature changes was also expected to increase.

"This situation makes it important that research effort is directed to understanding the degree of association and the mechanism by which high temperature and temperature increases impact on preterm birth," she said.

"In the meantime, it is important that pregnant women take special precautions to avoid heat stress and to keep cool when there are sudden increases in temperature."

She said this could include drinking extra fluids, not undertaking strenuous exercise at the hottest time of the day and remaining in air conditioned areas when possible. Taking cool showers after heat exposure and using evaporative coolers and fans also helped, she said.

The study was published in this month's edition of the journal Midwifery.

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