Wood Smoke from Wildfires Leads to Lower Birth Weight

Wood Smoke from Wildfires Leads to Lower Birth Weight

We’ve known for years that exposure to high levels of indoor wood smoke harms babies and children in developing countries. This raises the question: Does shorter-term exposure to wood smoke affect babies in developed countries?

This question is difficult to address, but a new paper by researchers at UC Berkeley shows that pregnant women exposed to wildfire smoke during Southern California’s epic 2003 fire season had babies with lower birth weights.

Specifically, researchers compared the birth weights from pregnancies that took place entirely before or after the wildfire event (n = 747,590) with those where wildfires occurred during the first (n = 60,270), second (n = 39,435), or third (n = 38,739) trimester. They found that women who were pregnant during the wildfires had slightly, but significantly, smaller babies.

There is no need to panic if you are pregnant and breathing smoke from a wildfire. Dr. Richard Chinnock, head of the Pediatrics Department at Loma Linda University Medical Center, said the 10-gram decrease in birth weight observed in the study is so slight that no one would notice a difference in the delivery room.

The bottom line is that the air a woman breathes when she is pregnant can affect her developing baby. Smoke exposure “could be one insult that adds to another insult for a cumulative effect.”

A recent review concludes that greater exposure to air pollution during pregnancy leads to higher infant mortality, lower birth weight, impaired lung development, increased later respiratory morbidity, and early alterations in immune development. The Environmental Protection Agency provides these tips for reducing prenatal exposure to air pollution, including wood smoke.

Clean air is healthy air, especially for developing babies.

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