Years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in lower Manhattan, the event may have affected women and their babies who were not even conceived on September 11, 2001, according to a new study.
Researchers found that women rescue and recovery workers at the World Trade Center site and women who lived below Canal Street—those with the greatest exposure to toxins—had doubled the rate of preterm delivery and low-birthweight babies in the years following the attacks, Reuters Health reports. The study appears in the American Journal of Public Health.
The study’s lead author, Carey Maslow, deputy director of research for the World Trade Center Health Registry said, “Associations between disaster exposure and adverse birth outcomes have been demonstrated repeatedly in the past.” But its is “surprising,” Maslow says, “that these associations persisted among infants conceived up to three years after 9/11.”
The researchers matched birth certificates for infants born in New York City between September 11, 2001 and the end of 2010 to 9/11 toxic exposure data for women in the World Trade Center Health Registry. During that time, 3,360 babies were born to women enrolled in the registry, Reuters Health reports. Less than 10 percent of the babies were born to women pregnant on 9/11.
Nearly 7 percent of the babies were delivered preterm, meaning before 37 weeks of pregnancy, and 6 percent weighted less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces, which places them in the low-birthweight category. According to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC), the average newborn in the U.S. weighs about 8 pounds, and about 8 percent of all babies are low birthweight. Preterm and low-birthweight babies can suffer both immediate problems and long-term complications.
The researchers looked at the mothers’ involvement in the 9/11 attacks and the aftermath, including being injured, witnessing traumatic scenes, performing rescue and recovery work, or being evacuated from a residence in the neighborhood, Reuters Health reports. The team found that through the end of December 2003, women with at least two out of four exposures were 2.3 times more likely than women with less exposure to have a low-birthweight baby and 2.1 times more likely to have a preterm delivery. When the mother performed rescue or recovery work, the infant was 1.9 times more likely to be born preterm in the years after 9/11. Later in the study period, the birth differences began to diminish, the researchers note.
Maslow told Reuters Health, “Adverse reproductive outcomes have been associated with other terrorist attacks, with environmental disasters, chemical disasters, and even with natural disasters, like hurricanes and earthquakes.” Because toxic exposure and psychological trauma tend to occur simultaneously in a disaster, it can be difficult to disentangle their relative effects, Maslow explains.
The reproductive effects appear to persist even for women who were not pregnant at the time of the 9/11 attacks but conceived in the following year or two, said Dr. Iris Udasin, medical director of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute Clinical Center at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Dr. Udasin said she would not tell women to delay pregnancy after a natural disaster or an event like 9/11, but she would advise them to do everything possible to become healthy both physically and mentally before becoming pregnant.