Objective: The purpose of this study was to review the available literature regarding the physiological burden imposed on pregnant women by their wearing filtering facepiece respirators.
Methods: A medical literature search was conducted using MEDLINE (1996-2008) for English language articles, bibliographies of retrieved articles, electronic references from medical and governmental agency sources, and selected textbook articles.
Results: Two hundred thirty-four articles from the medical literature and 267 electronic references were retrieved, of which 51 articles from the medical literature, 25 electronic references, and 2 textbook articles were selected for data acquisition.
Conclusions: Very little rigorous scientific data exist on the physiological burden associated with the use of filtering facepiece respirators by pregnant women, and no definitive conclusions can be reached at this time. Although studies are warranted, they may be difficult to undertake because of health concerns and potential liability associated with the use of pregnant women in medical research. Computer modeling that incorporates features of pulmonary function in pregnancy might offer an alternative to human studies. Filtering facepiece respirators developed to meet the respiratory limitations of pregnant wearers might offer a universal design that would improve the comfort and tolerability for all users. Alternative strategies that limit the pregnant woman's contact with potentially infectious agents (e.g., job reassignment, working from home) may have to be employed in certain circumstances.