Bushfire smoke and the risk of SIDS and stillbirth

The air quality across many parts of Australia continues to be very poor as a result of the catastrophic fires ravaging the country.

This advice can help protect babies and pregnant women from toxic smoke.


Bushfire smoke contains toxic gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, and particles, all of which can be hazardous. Small particles in smoke can affect the lungs’ ability to breath normally, aggravate asthma or other respiratory conditions, and can cause a sore throat, runny nose or coughing. For healthy adults, these symptoms usually go away once the smoke has subsided

Pregnant women, young children and infants are more sensitive to the effects of breathing in the smoke.

These bushfires and the level of smoke haze in the air is unprecedented, and as a result, very little research has been undertaken into the long-term effect of bushfire smoke in pregnancy and increased risk of sudden infant death. This means that we don’t really know what the long-term effects of continued exposure to bushfire smoke are on growing babies – either during pregnancy or infancy – or the potential for it to increase the risk of SIDS.

However, we do know that bushfire smoke is toxic, so Red Nose recommends that pregnant women and young children, especially infants, actively avoid or at the very least limit exposure to the smoke as much as possible to protect against the ill-effects of the hazardous air.

Our advice to protect yourself

Our advice to protect yourself and your children from the effects of the smoke:

  • Think about ways to reduce your exposure to the smoky conditions – check the Air Quality Index before you or child goes outside.
  • Don’t smoke cigarettes inside or near your child – cigarette smoke will only exacerbate the already toxic air, and is already a significant risk factor for SIDS and stillbirth.
  • Keep doors and windows shut, and if you are using air conditioning, set it to recycle the air rather than pulling new air in from outside.
  • When travelling in cars, keep doors and windows shut switch your air conditioner to recycle so you are not drawing smoky particles into the cabin.
  • Use a pedestal fan in a corner of your child’s room to circulate the air – Fans have been associated with a reduced risk of SIDS. Make sure the fan is not placed too close to the cot or bed.
  • Seek medical attention immediately if symptoms start to get worse.

Other ways to reduce the risk of sudden infant death:

• Always practice Red Nose Safe Sleep guidelines – place baby on their back to sleep, in a safe cot, with nothing covering their face or head.

Ways to reduce the risk of stillbirth:

• Red Nose recommends sleeping on your side – this is because research shows that sleeping on the side during the third trimester can reduce the risk of stillbirth by half.

• Be aware of your baby’s movements – get to know your baby’s on unique movements and if you haven’t felt baby move in a little while, contact your midwife, obstetrician or maternity hospital straight away for advice.

• Don’t smoke while pregnant, and try not to be around second hand smoke – smoking increases the risk of stillbirth and SIDS.

Further information:

Local and state-based air quality and bushfire health advice:

Last modified: 1/12/21