According to a new study, babies whose mothers are exposed to hurricanes while the baby is in the womb may have an increased risk of experiencing fetal distress, a condition that results from too little oxygen reaching fetal tissues and can impair a baby's intellectual and language development for years to come.

 The researchers analyzed data involving mothers and infants who were in the line of Hurricane Andrew when it hit Florida's Miami-Dade and Broward counties in 1992. The scientists compared data concerning hurricane-hit regions of the state with data from other Floridia counties that escaped the severe weather.

They found that babies who had been exposed in utero to the hurricane during the first trimester were fine, showing no signs of fetal distress. Babies who were exposed to the hurricane during the second trimester were 20 percent more likely to display sings of fetal distress at birth. The risk rose to 26 percent for babies who were exposed during the third trimester.

Differences were also noted according to race as black newborns exposed to the hurricane during the third trimester were 45 percent more likely to experience fetal distress.

Based on these findings, the authors suggest that expectant mothers be prioritized for evacuation in the face of an impending hurricane.

The study is reported in the October issue of Risk Analysis.