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Emergency Preparedness and Response: Pregnant Women and Newborns

The United States has averaged 60 major federally declared disasters annually in the past 15 years.1  In this time period, each state and US territory has experienced a disaster. Nearly 850,000 people in the United States are affected by natural disasters yearly. However, that number does not include those affected by man-made events or pandemic diseases such as influenza.

Disasters disrupt people's lives, families, and communities. Disasters can affect access to needed medical and social services, increase stress, intensify physical work, and expand caregiving duties.2 Any of these effects may result in poor health outcomes among women of reproductive age, especially pregnant and postpartum women and newborns.

Research studies conducted after disasters in the United States have shown that pregnant women may have increased medical risks such as blood pressure disorders or anemia.3 Also, their infants may experience health issues such as low birth weight and/or preterm birth.4, 5

Are you prepared for an emergency?

Understanding the Impact of Disasters on Reproductive Health

sign stating "Crisis Ahead"CDC's Division of Reproductive Health (DRH) has a history of preparing for and responding to the needs of women and infants before, during, and after disaster events. This includes working in settings where disasters have occurred and developing emergency care information for pregnant women and their healthcare providers. DRH worked with local, state and federal partners to develop the following tools to assess the post-disaster reproductive health outcomes of women aged 15–44 years:

  • In collaboration with the University of North Carolina (UNC) Center for Public Health Preparedness at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health developed the Reproductive Health Assessment After Disaster Toolkit (RHAD) to assist health departments with assessing the reproductive health needs of women aged 15–44 years affected by natural and man-made disasters.6 
  • Summarized the evidence for contraceptive need to prevent unintended pregnancy during an emergency response with the publication of the article "Contraceptive Availability during an Emergency Response in the United States" in the Journal of Women's Health in 2013. This article also recommends the most appropriate types of contraceptives for disaster situations and describes the current provisions in place to provide contraceptives during an emergency response.

Highlights of DRH Emergency Preparedness Activities

  • Preparedness Planning - In 2009, the Arkansas PRAMS team added a question about whether women who gave birth that year had an emergency plan.  The article "Preparedness Planning for Emergencies Among Postpartum Women in Arkansas During 2009" examines the associations between socio-demographic characteristics and disaster experience and the presence of an emergency plan. In 2014, DRH created a new pretested standard question about preparedness to assess the level of preparedness for a disaster among postpartum women in PRAMS participating states. This new question can benefit your State by providing data to better understand what elements of preparedness are lacking among postpartum women and may help public health officials to plan and review strategies to reach this population. For more information, please contact CDC-INFO.
  • Anthrax - In 2012, DRH collaborated with the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID) to convene 77 national experts on anthrax and public health to guide the update of recommendations for pregnant and postpartum women exposed to the virus. Guidelines on Special Considerations for Prophylaxis for and Treatment of Anthrax in Pregnant and Postpartum Women were published to provide updated clinical information to healthcare providers and public health professionals caring for these women in a bioterrorist event involving anthrax.

Highlights of DRH Emergency Response Activities for Infectious Diseases

Newborns in nurseryInformation for Pregnant Women and New Mothers

Pregnant women are classified as a population with special clinical needs in the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2013 [PDF - 189KB]. The needs of pregnant women during pandemic influenza and other emergencies are also emphasized by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in the Special Medical Needs: Definitions and Related Terms [PDF - 77KB] document.

CDC developed a factsheet to help pregnant women and women with infants or young children in planning for an emergency or disaster. Partners across CDC have also compiled critical all-hazards preparedness information for pregnant women and new mothers.

PhysicianInformation for Healthcare Providers

CDC created a Web resource for non-obstetric healthcare providers in caring for pregnant women during disasters.


  1. FEMA declared disasters by year or state. FEMA Website. Accessed February 17, 2015.
  2. Zotti ME, Tong VT, Kieltyka, L, Brown-Bryant, R. Making Evacuation Decisions: The Case of High Risk Pregnant and Postpartum Women. The women of Katrina: How gender, race, and class matter in an American disaster. 2012; 90-104.
  3. Tong VT, Zott ME, Hsia J. Impact of the 1997 Red River Catastrophic Flood on Women Giving Birth in North Dakota. Matern Child Health J. 2010; 15:281-288.
  4. Zotti, ME, Williams AM, Robertson M, Horney J, Hsia J. Post-disaster reproductive health outcomes. Matern Child Health J. 2012; 17(5), 783-796.
  5. Callaghan WM, Rasmussen SA, Jamieson DJ, Ventura SJ, Farr SL, Sutton PD, et al. Health concerns of women and infants in times of natural disasters: lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina. Matern Child Health J. 2007; 11(4):307-11
  6. Horney, J, Zotti ME, Williams AM, Hsia, J. (2012). Cluster sampling with referral to improve the efficiency of estimating unmet needs among pregnant and postpartum women after disasters. Women's Health Issues. 2012; 22(3): 253-7.

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