How Does Fire Smoke Affect Pregnancy?
Fire smoke can affect anyone who lives or visits areas where wildfires occur, but women and their families are particularly vulnerable to the hazard. Inhaling fire smoke can make you feel sick and lead to serious health problems like pneumonia, bronchitis and lung disease.
Smoke is a mix of toxins from burning vegetation and buildings, and it can also contain airborne gases like carbon monoxide. It also contains fine particles, some of them so small that they can penetrate your lungs and get into your bloodstream.
When you inhale smoke from a wildfire, it can irritate your breathing, leading to shortness of breath, chest pains and coughing or wheezing. It can also make you feel tired and worn out.
The noxious particles in smoke can also affect your mental health. A study by University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford researchers found that people living near a 2003 southern California wildfire were more likely to experience anxiety and stress than those who lived farther away.
There’s also a growing body of research showing that poor air quality can have a negative effect on pregnancy, birth weight, preterm birth and infant mortality. And it may even increase the risk of miscarriages.
One of the most recent studies is based on data from Colorado from 2007 to 2015. They found that women who were exposed to high levels of PM2.5 (PM2.5 is a particle size range of 10 microns or less) in the first trimester of their pregnancy had a significantly higher risk of having a baby that was born too early.
Babies born too early can have a variety of conditions, including learning disabilities and vision or hearing impairments, as well as poor cognitive development later in life. They can also have trouble sleeping, which is especially important for newborns.
In addition, babies born to mothers exposed to smoke during their first trimester of pregnancy were more likely to develop gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and premature labor.
It’s not clear how smoke exposure could cause these outcomes, but the risk of preterm delivery is higher in regions that get more air pollution from wildfires, such as the Pacific Northwest and California.
Smoke is also linked to a higher rate of miscarriage, according to a study from the Center for Non-Partisan Research and Community Education at the University of Utah. Researchers studied 45 macaques and found that if they were exposed to smoke during their first trimester, they were less likely to carry their babies to live birth than those that were not.
The researchers said more research is needed to determine how much the toxins in wildfire smoke cross the placenta, and what impact that may have on your health during pregnancy.
If you have to evacuate your home because of a fire, pack an emergency supply kit with clothes and medications, along with copies of your medical documents and insurance card. If your doctor or hospital is closed, plan where you will go to receive your prenatal care and deliver your child.