Pregnant? Here’s What You Need to Know About Carbon Monoxide

by | Dec 28, 2016 | Health, Safety | 0 comments

Pregnancy is an exciting time in a woman’s life, to say the least, but it also brings with it a myriad of health concerns for both the expectant mother and the unborn child—especially when air quality is concerned. Significant exposure to toxins such as carbon monoxide (CO), for instance, can lead to congenital disabilities, neurological problems, and prenatal or even neonatal death.

Completely without taste, odor, or color, carbon monoxide is a byproduct of combusting fuels such as wood or gas. It is also one of the leading causes of poisoning in the U.S, sending thousands of individuals to the emergency room every year with symptoms ranging from nausea and lightheadedness to unconsciousness.

As it is virtually undetectable without the proper monitoring equipment, carbon monoxide poses a significant threat to pregnant mothers—not to mention everyone else. Although mild exposure to the toxin seldom results in complications to the pregnancy, expecting mothers should take the necessary precautions nonetheless.

According to Drs. Perry Friedman and Robert J. Stiller of the Bridgeport Hospital Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the medical journal Contemporary OB/GYN, exposure to carbon monoxide in the later stages of pregnancy can lead to cerebral palsy and hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, as well as other problems.

“The effects of CO poisoning on the developing fetus depend greatly on the gestational age of exposure and the dose. As a general rule, fetal injury is more likely when acute maternal CO poisoning is associated with more severe symptoms such as loss of consciousness. An anoxic event during the early gestational ages of embryogenesis or shortly after may be associated with anatomical malformations such as limb abnormalities or microcephaly, specifically in fetuses that survive to viability.”

So, in other words, the greater the exposure, the greater the risk of prenatal complications—or worse. Essentially this is because carbon monoxide limits the amount of oxygen that blood can carry to vital organs, thereby resulting in long-term damage—especially if the organs are still developing. Although carbon monoxide takes slightly longer to enter the fetus’s blood, it is still very much able to cross the placenta from mother to child.

To protect against possible exposure, pregnant mothers should have carbon monoxide detectors installed in their home—particularly in bedrooms or rooms that feature gas or wood-burning heating devices. Annual inspections and maintenance of these devices are also encouraged before use in the wintertime when carbon monoxide exposure is most prevalent.

When not at home, it is also advisable to carry a portable air quality monitor that measures for carbon monoxide and offers environmental alerts such as harmful concentrations of airborne pollutants. In this way, any possible exposure is immediately identified whereas physical symptoms may not appear for some time.

In the event of exposure or perceived exposure, please seek medical attention immediately.