Q: I’ve been to a few parties this winter where I can smell smoke from a fire in the fireplace. I’ve read that breathing smoke can be harmful for a fetus. How seriously should I take that warning?
A: Burning wood in the fireplace is generally safe during pregnancy, if the chimney is operating properly and carries away the majority of the smoke and carbon monoxide. But if there’s visible smoke, or it’s making you cough, I recommend that you leave the party, or at the very least crack open a window to allow fresh air in and make it easier for the fireplace to vent.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas formed by burning material. Excessive exposure is dangerous. In a study of pregnant women in Guatemala, those with daily exposure to wood smoke delivered babies whose birth weight was, on average, 2 ounces lower than the babies of pregnant women who weren’t exposed. And the early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning-headaches, nausea, fatigue-can all be mistaken for the flu this time of year.