After Hurricane Maria, many women in Puerto Rico lacked adequate access to prenatal care information about emergency delivery services, breastfeeding support, and nutritious food to support pregnancy or lactation. In fact, pregnant women’s exposure to hurricanes is associated with higher chances of a preterm birth largely due to stress and disrupted health services, a new study published in Environment International reveals. Premature births also increase risk of birth injury, which is often preventable.

Teaching hurricane preparedness

In a first for Puerto Rico, Carmen Zorrilla, an obstetrician at the island’s main public hospital, is offering a non-traditional approach to care for women with high-risk pregnancies. As an alternative to one-on-one checkups, Zorilla hosts two-hour group prenatal appointments. She’ll also be teaching hurricane preparedness. Zorrilla initially began group appointments to help address Puerto Rico’s high rate of premature and underweight babies.

Studies show when pregnant women, especially low-income black pregnant women, attend group appointments, their babies are more prone to being born on their due dates. Zorrilla thinks this is down to social support and lowered stress. Her classes will cover issues like how to cut the umbilical cord, important supplies to keep in the house, and relaxing breathing techniques. Consequently, pregnant women will have the knowledge and confidence to deal with giving birth during hurricane season.

The problem of birth injury

Puerto Rico’s high rate of premature babies also leads to increased rates of birth injury like bone fractures, facial paralysis, cerebral palsy, and spinal cord injuries. In addition to premature births, birth injuries can also be caused by a prolonged or difficult labor. Additionally, although healthcare workers are trained in the process of childbirth, inexperienced or impatient staff can sometimes cause birth injuries — this is medical malpractice.

Fortunately, birth injury lawyers can help families win financial compensation to cover the costs associated with birth injury (including, long-term medical care, therapy, hospital visits, and medical equipment). While medical professionals often say birth injuries are unpreventable to avoid liability, an experienced lawyer can help arrange for medical examinations to determine the true cause of the injury. If the birth injury is determined the result of medical malpractice, lawyers can pursue a legal claim.

While pregnant women in Puerto Rico are particularly vulnerable when storms hit, action is being taken to improve their knowledge base and access to quality healthcare. Hurricane preparedness and birth injury awareness are key to healthy pregnancies and deliveries.