Birth weight following pregnancy during the 2003 Southern California wildfires

Environ Health Perspect. 2012 Sep;120(9):1340-5. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1104515. Epub 2012 May 29.


Background: In late October 2003, a series of wildfires exposed urban populations in Southern California to elevated levels of air pollution over several weeks. Previous research suggests that short-term hospital admissions for respiratory outcomes increased specifically as a result of these fires.

Objective: We assessed the impact of a wildfire event during pregnancy on birth weight among term infants.

Methods: Using records for singleton term births delivered to mothers residing in California's South Coast Air Basin (SoCAB) during 2001-2005 (n = 886,034), we compared birth weights from pregnancies that took place entirely before or after the wildfire event (n = 747,590) with those where wildfires occurred during the first (n = 60,270), second (n = 39,435), or third (n = 38,739) trimester. The trimester-specific effects of wildfire exposure were estimated using a fixed-effects regression model with several maternal characteristics included as covariates.

Results: Compared with pregnancies before and after the wildfires, mean birth weight was estimated to be 7.0 g lower [95% confidence interval (CI): -11.8, -2.2] when the wildfire occurred during the third trimester, 9.7 g lower when it occurred during the second trimester (95% CI: -14.5, -4.8), and 3.3 g lower when it occurred during the first trimester (95% CI: -7.2, 0.6).

Conclusions: Pregnancy during the 2003 Southern California wildfires was associated with slightly reduced average birth weight among infants exposed in utero. The extent and increasing frequency of wildfire events may have implications for infant health and development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Air Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Birth Weight*
  • California / epidemiology
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Female
  • Fires*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimesters
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / chemically induced*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / epidemiology
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk Factors
  • Young Adult