Bushfire babies: Dr Rebecca McGowan shines light on smoke impacts on pregnancy

SMOKE: Francesca Ciantar and daughter Stella were forced to evacuate their home in January due to the smoke when Stella was just one week old.
SMOKE: Francesca Ciantar and daughter Stella were forced to evacuate their home in January due to the smoke when Stella was just one week old.

Babies born after the bushfires are underweight, have breathing problems and their mother's placenta looks like that of a pack a day smoker, according to a north east Victorian GP.

Rebecca McGowan said the affects of the bushfires earlier this year has not only impacted mothers who were breathing in the thick smoke, but also their unborn children, now being referred to as "bushfire babies".

"When mothers gave birth at the beginning of the year, it was terrifying for them to have that smoke and a newborn baby," she said. "You can't put a mask on a baby."

"We saw the affects immediately with women having little babies and what I am worried about is the affects of breathing in that smoke and the effects that has had on the pregnancies and the babies born.

"One of my patients, her placenta was so damaged by the smoke exposure she had, the midwives could not believe she was not a smoker."

Yackandandah mother Francesca Ciantar, who had her daughter Stella on Boxing Day, said she and partner Ben woke up one morning in a panic as their house had filled with smoke.

"When she was about one week old we woke up and the house was just full of smoke," she said.

"I said to Ben, 'if this is hurting my eyes and throat what is it doing to her'. I remember during my labour the doctors and nurses talking quietly about the smoke.

"I could see out the window that everything was grey.

"When we left the hospital it was awful outside and my heart just sank, you can't help but think 'what kind of a world is this kid coming into?' We couldn't even give her clean air.

"I felt the inter-generational inequality pretty acutely."

The family made the "snap decision" to evacuate to Sydney when the smoke was at its worst, with fears they would come home to nothing but ash.


And while Stella has had some breathing difficulties since, they are still unsure what affect the smoke will have on her long term.

"She is what the doctors call a jolly wheezer,they don't know if this is because of the smoke or her size as she's pretty chubby," she said,

"I think the thing that is so terrifying is that there was no choice but to breathe this toxic air."

A new university survey is looking into the affects of this year's bushfires and COVID-19 on pregnant women and their babies.

Dr McGowan is urging mums to take part.

The four-part Australian National University survey is part of a larger study in partnership with the University of Canberra, University of Wollongong, Canberra Health Services and NSW Health on how these recent crises have impacted the living conditions, as well as mental and physical health of new mothers and their babies.

"While what I have seen is a very small sample, I would encourage women to join the study because we really need to get more information about how it impacts babies," Dr McGowan said.

Dr McGowan said the mental health impact of the bushfires is also a reality for many of her patients.

Take part in the survey here.

This story Bushfire babies born underweight, placenta like that of pack a day smoker first appeared on The Border Mail.