Climate Change: Bad News for Baby Boys?

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by Pregnancy.org Staff

In the news: Does climate change impact pregnancies? The answer leans to yes.

If you were to survey the victims of floods, wildfires, earthquakes or hurricanes, they're liable to tell you what the consequences of climate change mean to them. To these folks, it means the loss of a family member, not to mention property damage. A University of California-Berkeley study out this month shows that the impacts of climate change could be biological, too.

Using 150-year-old Swedish family records and temperature data, public health professor Ralph Catalano and his colleagues suggest that rapid and wide temperature fluctuations could lead to shorter lifespans for some men.

The study concludes that "...mothers are less likely to automatically miscarry male fetuses very early in gestation when it's warm, and more likely to do so when it's cold, because baby boys are more "frail" in early life than baby girls."

According to the study, "warm temperatures could trick more newly-pregnant mothers—or rather, their bodies—into keeping male fetuses they might otherwise have rejected for genetic weakness."

This could potentially mean a rise in the total number of births, lead to a larger number who die young if those baby boys experience cold temperatures early on, decreasing the average life expectancy.

In essence, Catalano said, "those are boys who never should have been born in the first place. But climate change makes it harder for mothers to, biologically speaking, determine whether a fetus will be resilient as a child."

That isn't a bit of good news at all. Catalano says, "Over time, evolution will allow us to adapt to these fluctuations, as the males who do survive pass their stronger genes along. In the long-term evolutionary sense, we'll become better able to deal with the wacky climate we're responsible for creating. You're shifting, in a small way, the characteristics of the population."

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