Hurricane Katrina and Perinatal Health


  • The pregnancy study was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development/National Institutes of Health (NIH/NICHD 3U01HD040477-05S) and the postpartum study by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (R21 MH078185-01), Bethesda, Maryland, United States. Dr. Harville was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (K12HD043451). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development or the National Institutes of Health.

Emily W. Harville, PhD, 1440 Canal St. SL-18, New Orleans, LA 70112-2715, USA.


We review the literature on the effects of Hurricane Katrina on perinatal health, and providing data from our own research on pregnant and postpartum women. After Katrina, obstetric, prenatal, and neonatal care was compromised in the short term, but increases in adverse birth outcomes such as preterm birth, low birthweight, and maternal complications were mostly limited to highly exposed women. Both pregnant and postpartum women had rates of post-traumatic stress disorder similar to, or lower than, others exposed to Katrina, and rates of depression similar to other pregnant and postpartum populations. Health behaviors, such as smoking and breastfeeding, may have been somewhat negatively affected by the disaster, whereas effects on nutrition were likely associated with limited time, money, and food choices, and indicated by both weight gain and loss. We conclude that, with a few specific exceptions, postdisaster concerns and health outcomes for pregnant and postpartum women were similar to those of other people exposed to Hurricane Katrina. In such situations, disaster planners and researchers should focus on providing care and support for the normal concerns of the peripartum period, such as breastfeeding, depression, and smoking cessation. Contraception needs to be available for those who do not want to become pregnant. Although additional physical and mental health care needs to be provided for the most severely exposed women and their babies, many women are capable of surviving and thriving in postdisaster environments.