Emergency Preparedness and Response: Pregnant Women and Newborns
The United States has averaged 58 major federally declared disasters annually in the past 15 years. 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 disaster 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. Any of these effects may result in poor health outcomes among women of reproductive age, especially pregnant women.
Pregnant women are classified as "at-risk individuals" in the 2006 Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act. The needs of pregnant women are also stressed by Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) programs emergency preparedness and response activities in the Special Medical Needs: Definitions and Related Terms [PDF - 468KB].
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. Also, their infants may experience health issues such as low birth weight, shorter length, preterm birth, or smaller head size.
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 health care providers.
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.
CDC created a Web resource for non-obstetric health care providers in caring for pregnant women during disasters.
Working with local, state, and federal partners, CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health developed the following tools to assess the post-disaster reproductive health outcomes of women aged 15–44 years:
- Funded the University of North Carolina (UNC) Center for Public Health Preparedness at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health to develop the Reproductive Health Assessment After Disaster Toolkit (RHAD). The toolkit was designed to assist health departments with assessing the reproductive health needs of women aged 15–44 years affected by natural and man-made disasters.
- Worked with 23 nationwide partners to identify a list of common post-disaster epidemiologic indicators for pregnant women, post-partum women, and infants resulting in the following: Health Indicators for Disaster-Affected Pregnant Women, Postpartum Women, and Infants: A Guide for Assessment and Surveillance of the Health of Disaster-Affected Pregnant and Postpartum Women and Infants by Using Common Epidemiologic Indicators to Affect Public Health Interventions [PDF - 816KB]. This tool incudes a list of proposed indicators and suggested questions for measuring them. We want to hear about your experience. If you or your organization have or plan to implement this tool, please e-mail us to share your objectives and lessons learned.
- Created a document that allows public health practitioners to estimate the number of pregnant women [PDF- 1.2MB] in a United States jurisdiction at any given point in time. The document also includes an example [PDF - 196KB] and a point-in-time [PDF - 124KB] calculator form.
- Worked to expand disaster surveillance using the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) or PRAMS-like projects to collect disaster-specific data. PRAMS has been used to obtain information on women using specific services or recommendations during pregnancy. One example of this work is Seasonal Influenza and 2009 H1N1 Influenza Vaccination Coverage Among Pregnant Women—10 States, 2009–2010 Influenza Season. Source: MMWR 2010;59(47):1541–1545.