September’s National Preparedness Month observance is an opportunity for the March of Dimes’ Mom and Baby Action Network members and partners to recognize the importance for individuals, families, and communities to be prepared for disasters and emergencies. While this month reminds us how important it is for everyone to be prepared, it is critical that pregnant and postpartum people and their babies be afforded special consideration given their unique needs and vulnerability to the impacts of natural and man-made disasters. Government agencies and health care systems must ensure that emergency planning includes pregnant and postpartum people and their babies to improve the capacity and coordination of health care services, public health services and social services during and after a disaster.
Disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, floods, and disease outbreaks (COVID-19) can all affect the health of pregnant and postpartum people and their babies through several pathways. People will likely need to alter their plans for labor and birth in the event of a disaster, especially when they no longer have access to their healthcare providers, birthing support (doula, partner, family) and healthcare facilities. In addition to impacting health care and support access, disasters can also lead to increased exposure to environmental pollutants, increased stress, lack of clean water and food, among other obstacles. Additional considerations when it comes to infant feeding, including breastfeeding, must be taken when disaster planning to minimize the impact of potential food and water shortages, illness outbreak, and displacement.
Consumer messaging and awareness campaigns that center pregnant and postpartum people and their babies are essential to support the systems level planning and work that is needed to improve health outcomes during and after disasters. While the inclusion of pregnant and postpartum people and their babies in emergency planning is paramount, there are things that people and communities can do to prepare for disasters. The CDC offers tools and resources for public health professionals and consumers to address reproductive health and emergency preparedness. Another organization that provides similar resources and messaging is Birthmark Doulas in Louisiana.
To learn more about the Mom and Baby Action Network’s Environmental Justice work and advance maternal and infant health equity together, visit Igniting Impact Together.