Pregnant women need to be very careful with secondhand smoke in the air: doctor

Smoke from wildfires in parts of Alberta, British Columbia and now Nova Scotia has doctors warning pregnant women to take special precautions to avoid inhaling toxic particles.

Dr Wee-Shian Chan, chief of medicine at BC Women’s Hospital, said breathing in the pollutants and toxic gases produced by wildfires introduces particulate matter into the bloodstream and lungs, making it harder to breathe. .

“When women are exposed to wildfires, it can affect their baby’s development,” she said, adding that there are gaps in research on whether smoke interferes with development. normal or not because pregnant women cannot be exposed to it for research purposes. .

“Women just need to be vigilant,” she said.

“If pregnant women are prone to asthma, it can also cause bronchospasm or cough and breathing problems, so that’s not a good thing during pregnancy either.”

Chan advises those who are pregnant to stay indoors, use portable air purifiers with certified HEPA filters, and drink plenty of water. She added, depending on the air quality, they should also wear an N95 mask when outdoors or leave the area if necessary.

“Unfortunately, it has become a regular occurrence,” she said of the wildfires, which began at the start of the season in Alberta this year.

A study co-authored by University of Toronto Mississauga researcher Matthew Adams suggests that wildfire smoke may affect the first trimester of pregnancy, increasing the risk of having a low-birth-weight baby.

The study, published last year in the journal Lancet Regional Health Americas and also involving researchers from Brazil, Denmark and the United States, estimated the southern Brazilian region to have a low birth rate. Weight gain by nearly 19% due to wildfire smoke exposure during the first trimester. .

The researchers studied 1.6 million birth records from across Brazil between 2001 and 2018 and analyzed wildfire smoke that occurred during that time.

However, that study contradicts findings in other research, including that of retired but active psychiatry professor Suzanne King at McGill University following natural disasters like the wildfires. forest in 2016 in Fort McMurray, Alta., and ice storm in 1998 in Quebec, where millions of people were without power, some for more than a month.

“We really wanted to figure something out but we didn’t see any effect, even when we tried to estimate the number of days without power, it didn’t work,” King said.

In general, pregnant people shouldn’t blame themselves for anything beyond their control, she said of the behavior or physical problems of children born during or after a bushfire. or other disaster.

“If a child is affected, it’s more likely that your house is on fire than you are upset by the house on fire.”

Dr David Olson, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Alberta, led a study of the emotional stresses pregnant women faced during the May 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire evacuation.

He said about 80% of the approximately 300 participants said the evacuation was not their worst experience but it caused other injuries they suffered, such as abuse or trauma. death of a spouse or child.

“Pregnant women who experience a disaster like this can certainly use support,” he said, adding that officials running evacuation centers should make sure those pregnant stay with their family and have the support of friends and social workers if needed.

He said pregnant people who are forced to leave their homes when a fire breaks out face a build-up of stress that leads to anxiety and depression for some, especially those with a history of trauma.

Olson said public health officials will need to put more emphasis on addressing mental health issues, not just the physical problems caused by smoke in wildfires, which are bound to increase as a result. Climate Change.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 30, 2023.

The Canadian Press health insurance is supported through a partnership with the Canadian Medical Association.

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