New study researches how Hurricane Florence could have impacted pregnancies

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A new study reveals something that could affect a woman’s pregnancy. The study shows what storms like Hurricane Florence could mean for your baby.

“We’re so busy rebuilding some of the structures, we forget about some of the people who were affected during the hurricane,” said Dr. Michaela Howells, an assistant professor at UNCW.

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Howell’s expertise is in Anthropology and Women and Gender Studies. Her new study takes a closer look at Florence’s impact on pregnant women.

“What we’re interested in is how the hurricane impacted women’s stress and how it may have impacted their pregnancy,” said Howells.

Howells created the Growth Adaptation and Pregnancy Stress lab, also known as GAPS. There, she hopes to study women who were pregnant during the storm and are still pregnant, especially women who are African American or low income.



“Their experience is neglected within the scientific literature surrounding natural disasters,” said Howells.

Howells hopes to understand how human biology intersects with culture. Despite studies regarding fetal development and maternal stress, Howells says there are still a lot of missing puzzle pieces.

“These are understandings we have less of a strong background in, and scientifically it is important to understand the role of stress in pregnancy,” said Howells.

To measure stress, Howells will start at the root, by measuring cortisol levels before and after the hurricane in the hair samples of participants. After the baby is born, Howells will examine pregnancy outcomes to determine the effects of the stress.

“Like how long they’re pregnant. Are we seeing early deliveries? Are we seeing increased challenges associated with the hurricane?” said Howells.

Howells is hoping to enroll 80 women by the first week of January, and a total of 200 women by March of 2019.

Howells says all participants will receive a gift card as a thank you. If you are interested in being a part of this study, click here.