How to protect newborns and pregnant mums from the haze
Now that the haze is here, what can you do to beat the haze if you're pregnant or just delivered a newborn? Find out how to care for your new baby and how pregnant mums should cope during the haze.
The haze in Singapore has alarmingly worsened this year, with the Ministry of Education (MOE) announcing the first-ever school closure for Primary and Secondary students.
If you are a new parent or parent-to-be, you need to know the precautions pregnant mums should take and how to protect newborns from the haze. Here are some important points you should know about coping better during the haze, especially for these two vulnerable groups.
How does haze impact newborns
A newborn’s body is immature and thus, it is important to note that his respiratory system is also more susceptible to the poor quality of air that they could breathe in during hazardous PSI levels.
This puts them at a higher health risk when the haze strikes, and parents should keep them indoors especially when the PSI reading reaches 100 and beyond.
If their respiratory systems are affected, the little ones could develop asthma or bronchitis and may require serious medical care.
How to protect newborns from the haze
Here are some easy steps to note for the indoor environment:
- Keep doors and windows closed to keep the haze out.
- Turn on the fan or air-conditioning to keep the room cool and comfortable. Ensure that the filters are in optimal working condition and not chockfull of trapped dust.
- According to Associate Professor Victor Samuel Rajadural, Head and Senior Consultant, Department of Neonatalogy, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), “Keeping the baby in an air-conditioned room all day is safe as long as the thermostat is set at 22-24 degree Celsius and not 18-19 degrees.”
- Switch on the air purifier to help improve the indoor air quality, especially in areas of the house that do not have air-conditioning. Here are some tips on choosing the right air purifier.
Caring for baby’s skin and diet:
- If your baby is breastfed, continue to feed normally. If you are unwell (e.g. have a throat inflammation or are experiencing any upper respiratory tract infection (URTI)), putting on a mask during nursing may help you allay fears of passing on bacteria to your young baby. You can see a doctor to get breastfeeding-compatible medication or lozenges to alleviate your discomfort. Breastfeeding helps build a baby’s bank of antibodies and natural immunities too, so do continue to breastfeed.
- If baby is on formula, continue to feed normally too. Ensure that the water used is fresh and has not been left exposed without a cover. Haze sediments such as dust particles may settle on the exposed pot or kettle of water.
- To prevent your newborn’s skin from drying out, both due to the haze and/or the extended hours of air-conditioning, apply a suitable baby moisturiser to keep baby’s skin hydrated.
It is important to note that masks should not be put on for newborns or babies as this will interfere with their breathing, or worse, lead to suffocation.
Are there any ill effects on the unborn child? What precautionary steps should pregnant women take? Find out more on the next page.
Effects of the haze on pregnant women
There are alarming studies done in the US which found that exposure to high pollution levels during pregnancy could cause autism. According to the study, women who lived in highly polluted areas were twice as likely to have a child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder compared to those who lived in less polluted areas.
However, before you panic, do take note that the researchers found that the air pollutants with the strongest links to autism and other developmental problems are toxins like diesel fuel, lead, manganese and mercury — all heavy metals and chemicals associated with heavy industry emissions. When absorbed into the body, these toxins can enter the umbilical cord and cross the blood-brain barrier.
In contrast, the main culprit causing the haze and the spike in PSI right now is actually PM2.5, or particulate matter. This is basically the fine ash and other particles carried in the air from Indonesia. Given that the smoke comes from forest fires, and not a chemical source, it is probably unlikely that this kind of air pollutant would cause any problems developmentally in an unborn baby.
If the pregnant mum has existing health issues such as asthma, it is always wise to take extra precautions and be better protected against the haze. Ensure pregnancy-compatible medications are on-hand too.
Precautionary measures for pregnant women
The Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Health Promotion Board (HPB) advises that pregnant women should “reduce exposure to haze for the health of their unborn baby.”
While the N95 masks are touted the ideal masks for use during the haze, the Raffles Medical Group advises that “women in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy may already have reduced lung volumes or breathing issues, they should stop using a N95 mask if they feel uncomfortable. They should consult their doctor as to whether they can use the N95 mask. In addition, women in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy should not use the N95 mask for more than a short duration each time.”
The ideal precautionary measure for pregnant women? Stay indoors when the PSI gets over the unhealthy range. And should you experience any discomfort, it is best to seek medical attention or take time off work. It might also be good to speak to your employers about an alternative work arrangement such as a work from home.
As for diet, keep a healthy and balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and water to stay hydrated.
There are some Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and herbs that are touted to help the body beat the haze. Most of them are generally mild, and help with overall heatiness, clearing of respiratory system and cough or throat inflammation. However, for pregnant mums, it is recommended to check with your health practitioner on the suitability of consuming them.
Do note that the MOH has also announced the implementation of the Haze Subsidy Scheme for Singaporeans. Learn more about the criterion here.
What exactly is causing the haze and how are PSI readings measured? Find out more here.
Have you recently delivered to a newborn or are you a pregnant mum? Do tell us how you are coping with the haze!