New findings show more moms pregnant during the Fort McMurray wildfire, or in the months immediately after, had post-traumatic stress disorder compared to mothers in similar disasters.
The fear is these elevated stress levels could have negative health effects on their newborns, leading to developmental or behavioural issues — even obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
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The University of Alberta study measures the mental and emotional pressures mothers faced during the May 2016 wildfire evacuation and the subsequent rebuilding period.
Preliminary findings from the study show that 26 per cent of participants have elevated post-traumatic stress scores. That's higher than other disasters, such as the 1998 ice storm in Eastern Canada, in which post-traumatic stress scores were elevated in around 11 per cent of participants.
Dr. David Olson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the U of A, is leading the study, which is ongoing.
"The stress levels are really high in this community and we hope that our intervention is going to make a positive [difference]," Olson said.
The study relies on a questionnaire and its authors hope it will not only help the mothers and newborns of Fort McMurray, but those caught in future disasters, as well.
Study could help other disaster-stricken moms
Suzette Brémault-Phillips, an associate professor at the University of Alberta's faculty of rehabilitation medicine, said researchers have already duplicated the study in Texas to assess Hurricane Harvey babies and their mothers in October.
"It's one thing to understand the impact of it," Brémault-Phillips said. "It's another thing to understand what we can actually do when people are actually living through that kind of stress."
Approximately 300 Fort McMurray mothers are participating in the survey and researchers are still hoping more will sign up.
"The more women we have in this study, the greater information and the more fine-tuned information we will have about how best to help the women," said Suzanne King, one of the study's co-investigators at McGill University.
The researchers said even women who have left Fort McMurray and became pregnant more than a year after the wildfire are encouraged to participate.