Last summer was a terrible bushfire season,” Dr Steve Robson, Buttress’s obstetrician-gynaecologist told Al Jazeera. “The region had the worst air quality in the world at the time.
While it is hard to pinpoint exactly what causes health issues in babies, doctors say the catastrophic bushfires that ravaged Australia in 2019 and 2020 probably contributed to problems with newborns.
Bushfire smoke contains a complex mixture of chemicals, gases, and solid particles. Tiny particles like PM2.5 are particularly dangerous because they penetrate deep into the respiratory system and bloodstream.
Women tend to bear the brunt of climate change globally,” said Dr Robson, with pregnant women particularly susceptible.
Research from the United States – where the west coast has also endured devastating wildfires – shows that prolonged exposure to the smoke during pregnancy increases the risk of high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, premature birth, and low birth weight.
Dr Robson acknowledges it is hard to attribute health outcomes to bushfire smoke, but he cannot see what else could have caused the complications he has seen this year.
“All I can go on is what I personally experienced,” Dr Robson said. “Babies born during the height of the smoke ended up in ICU with breathing problems that we couldn’t explain.”
Dr Robson is also seeing unusual developments in women who were in the early stages of pregnancy in January. “Their babies that are inexplicably small, and there are abnormalities with the placentas … This is not something I usually see.