High environmental temperature and preterm birth: a review of the evidence

Midwifery. 2014 Jan;30(1):50-9. doi: 10.1016/j.midw.2013.01.011. Epub 2013 Mar 7.


Objective: to examine the evidence in relation to preterm birth and high environmental temperature.

Background: this review was conducted against a background of global warming and an escalation in the frequency and severity of hot weather together with a rising preterm birth rate.

Methods: electronic health databases such as: SCOPUS, MEDLINE, CINAHL, EMBASE and Maternity and Infant Care were searched for research articles, that examined preterm birth and high environmental temperature. Further searches were based on the reference lists of located articles. Keywords included a search term for preterm birth (preterm birth, preterm, premature, <37 weeks, gestation) and a search term for hot weather (heatwaves, heat-waves, global warming, climate change, extreme heat, hot weather, high temperature, ambient temperature). A total of 159 papers were retrieved in this way. Of these publications, eight met inclusion criteria.

Data extraction: data were extracted and organised under the following headings: study design; dataset and sample; gestational age and effect of environmental heat on preterm birth. Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP) guidelines were used to appraise study quality.

Findings: in this review, the weight of evidence supported an association between high environmental temperature and preterm birth. However, the degree of association varied considerably, and it is not clear what factors influence this relationship. Differing definitions of preterm birth may also add to lack of clarity.

Key conclusions: preterm birth is an increasingly common and debilitating condition that affects a substantial portion of infants. 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. When this happens, the body may be unable to adapt quickly to the change. As global warming continues, the incidence of high environmental temperature and dramatic temperature changes are also increasing. 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. Research is also warranted into the development of more effective cooling practices to ameliorate the effects of heat stress. In the meantime, it is important that pregnant women are advised to take special precautions to avoid heat stress and to keep cool when there are sudden increases in temperature.

Keywords: Environmental temperature; Pregnancy; Preterm birth.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Female
  • Global Warming
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / physiology*
  • Midwifery
  • Pregnancy
  • Premature Birth / nursing
  • Premature Birth / prevention & control*