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Were you pregnant during the Black Summer bushfires or COVID? ANU wants to hear from you

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Canberrans have had a heck of a year in 2020—from smoke haze to bushfires to hail and that old chestnut, COVID-19.

But spare a thought for expecting and new mums dealing with all of this and the ups and downs of pregnancy and childbirth.

If that’s you—the Australian National University wants to hear from you.

In partnership with the University of Canberra, the University of Wollongong, Canberra Health Services and NSW Health, ANU is conducting a four-part survey—Mother and Child 2020—which will explore how new and expecting mothers have coped with both the Black Summer bushfires and COVID-19.

ANU’s Lead Researcher Professor Christopher Nolan says there’s never quite been a year like 2020, which is why these experiences must be recorded.

“We need to listen to the experiences of these mothers and look at the challenges they faced during the bushfires and pandemic,” says Professor Nolan. “Understanding these challenges is the only way we can look to improve these systems in the future.”

The online survey is available to anyone who was pregnant or had a baby no older than three months as of 1 February 2020, or who became pregnant by 30 April 2020 who lives in Canberra or southeastern New South Wales.

Researchers are particularly interested in hearing from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers and women from culturally diverse backgrounds who will have “experienced unique circumstances during these crises”.

Participants will be asked a series of questions about how 2020 has affected their mental and physical health—and the health of their baby—as well as whether these crises have impacted job prospects, access to housing and childcare.

Zoey Salucci was seven months pregnant during the Black Summer bushfires, when she was forced to take shelter in Bermagui, fleeing her home in Cobargo.

“The smoke was so thick that I couldn’t breathe. Being pregnant, your lungs are already squashed and this made it feel so much worse,” says Zoey.

“I ended up sitting in a car because I couldn’t handle the smoke and I knew I would end up having to run to the beach if the fire got close.”

“I was under the most intense and indescribable stress that I have ever experienced. Not knowing how to escape or what the smoke was doing to my baby was the most horrible feeling.”

South Coast GP Dr Michelle Hamrosi says that she saw many patients who suffered from acute stress and anxiety from the bushfire smoke their babies were exposed to.

“I saw many patients who were exposed to significant amounts of bushfire smoke, including pregnant mothers. These patients were also impacted by massive disruption to their normal lives and were filled with anxiety day after day as the fires kept threatening the community. Their physical and mental health suffered.”

Dr Hamrosi says she hopes that this survey will lead to greater consideration in the future when it comes to pregnant women and emergency planning.

“It would be beneficial to use the results to develop more concise guidelines around bushfire smoke exposure so that we could provide more accurate advice for mums and their infants on how to stay healthy and safe during these times.”

“Pregnant women and infants are vulnerable to environmental exposures, and a positive outcome would be to see greater consideration given to this group as a whole during emergency preparation and planning.”

If you fit the criteria, you can access the survey at medicalschool.anu.edu.au/research/projects/mother-and-child-2020-mc2020

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