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Wildfire Smoke and Pregnancy: How Does It Affect the Baby?

Breathing in smoke irritates the lungs, which can put pregnant women at risk because they have a lower immunity.

Nearly 90,000 people have been displaced due to massive wildfires and smoke in Southern California as of Monday morning.

Parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties are flagged as “unhealthy air quality” areas as thick smoke continues to spread due to the Thomas, Creek, Rye and Skirball fires. The added toxins and debris in the air put pregnant women, children and other vulnerable individuals at higher risk of illness.

While there are methods pregnant moms can take to limit the amount of smoke they come in contact with, many still wonder just how much breathing in smoke affects the baby.

As a pregnant woman and journalist who lives in Los Angeles, I went to find out.

Protecting Yourself

First off, the N95 or N100 respirators that you can purchase at any hardware store are the best when it comes to filtering out the fine particles found in wildfire smoke. However, they do not filter out toxic gases like carbon monoxide or dangerous chemicals that come from certain materials burned in the fire, according to health care specialists and the U.S. Department of Health.

A handkerchief or paper/surgical masks will prevent large particles from being breathed in but are not the best choice for your health.

As someone who used to report on the front lines of wildfires with a handkerchief, this was news to me.

Risks to Mom and Baby

Breathing in smoke irritates the lungs, which can put pregnant women at risk because they have a lower immunity. However, pregnancy specialists say breathing in smoke doesn’t reach the bloodstream, so any risk to the baby is low. I spoke to specialists at North Country Obstetrics & Gynecology in Glens Falls, NY and Pacific Perinatal Center in Torrance, California.

Their recommendation is to stay indoors and use an N95 or N100 approved respirator when walking through a smokey area.

Smoke can intensify the symptoms of heart and lung disease as well as trigger and worsen asthma attacks.

Dr. Charity Dean from Santa Barbara Public Health says the best thing you can do if you’ve been in an intensely smokey area for several days is get out. She recommends doing everything you can to move yourself and your family to a healthier environment until the smoke clears.

Second-Hand Smoke Concerns

I was seriously worried about this, as my husband Steve Kuzj is a reporter in Los Angeles who’s been working on the front lines of these fires on a daily basis.

When he comes home, our place is immediately filled with the smell of smoke and soot. I can’t imagine what it’s like for firefighters on a daily basis.

Even after a shower, the smoke smell stays with him. I became worried, seeing as how I do sleep next to him, that it could affect my health.

The shorthand, as mentioned above, is that breathing in smoke may make pregnant women sick, potentially causing sneezing, coughing and other lung irritations, but the smoke does not get to the baby.

If you’re still worried that you, your unborn baby or other family members are at risk after breathing in smoke, contact your doctor right away.

Stay healthy and safe,

Christine

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