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'Horrendous': How bushfire smoke can impact babies for DECADES

Smoke inhalation from Australia’s horrific bushfire season has had a “horrendous” impact on babies born months after the fires were extinguished, with the effects predicted to last for decades, a doctor has said.

Speaking to 2GB’s John Stanley this week, Dr Rebecca McGowan said she holds grave concerns for the next generation of children whose parents were exposed to the bushfires that devastated Australia in late 2019 and early 2020.

Dr McGowan said she is starting to see the “horrendous” effects of the bushfires on newborn babies who were born months after the fires, saying the placentas of women who were pregnant during the bushfires look like that of a pack-a-day smoker.

Dr McGowan explained the placenta acts like a filter.

Pictured in this file photo is a newborn babies feet, the bushfire smoke has greatly impacted newborns a doctor has said.
A doctor has said the smoke from the bushfires from late 2019 and 2020 have impacted children still in the womb at the time and could impact them for generations. Source: Getty

“When a woman is pregnant, she actually breathes harder, her heart beats harder, she works very hard to nurture the baby within.

“And when she's breathing in these small particles, they travel into her lungs through her body and can be deposited in the placenta, which acts as a filter.

“So we know that the placenta will be a depository for these toxic chemicals from the smoke.”

The placenta will absorb chemicals like carbon monoxide from a car’s exhaust, and nitric oxide from the bushfire smoke, which could have severe consequences.

“The poor baby developing gets these toxic chemicals within them and that has quite serious consequences - not just for the baby when they’re growing but for years and years to come, decades.

“Even when that baby probably lives to their 80s or 90s, they will be affected by the bushfire smoke from when they were inside their mother,” Dr McGowan said.

Citing an American study, she explained bushfire smoke can increase the risk of diabetes in a baby or increased blood pressure - but it’s not just up to the women.

“We know that even it's not just about the women, it's also the men. There's a lot of work to be done on the effects of men breathing smoke and how that affects the babies that they are producing,” she said.

When speaking about what women could do regarding the looming bushfire season, Dr McGowan said it’s important to not alarm expectant mothers, but to offer practical advice.

Rural Fire Service (RFS) crews prepare for the Green Wattle Creek Fire as it threatens homes in Yandeera in the south west of Sydney, Saturday, December 21, 2019. Temperatures in the 40's and high north westerly winds under extreme fire conditions are fanning a a number of fires around Sydney
The 2020 bushfire season looms and Dr McGowan says important to not panic expectant mothers, but offer advice. Source: AAP

Avoid bushfire smoke as much as possible, wear a mask, stay indoors, opt for a closed-circuit air conditioner instead of a water-based one and head to an area away from the fires where there will be better air quality, Dr McGowan said.

The latter was something she suggested to pregnant women she cared for over December and January, encouraging them to travel to Sydney or Melbourne which had better air quality than Albury.

Dr McGowan said she was concerned Australia was about to see the events of the previous bushfire season unfold all over again.

“It's going to be quite a big fire season down here again, it is going to be Groundhog Day,” she said.

“As GPs, as doctors, were saying it's a climate emergency. We need to take it seriously.

“It’s here now and it will be affecting our children for the next eight or nine decades.

“And if we don't do something about that now, what's it going to take?”

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