Previous research suggests that birth outcomes, such as gestational age, birth weight and secondary sex ratio (the ratio of boys to girls in a population at birth), alter in response to maternal stress. This study considers the role of environmental disasters in maternal stress and altered birth outcomes. A pilot study conducted in 2012 suggests that exposure to bushfires may influence birth weight and gestational age in exposed mother-child populations. Other research on storms and earthquakes support these findings and also find that secondary sex ratio can decline after environmental disasters, resulting in fewer male babies. This study considers in more detail the relationship between two Australian bushfires (the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria and the 2003 Canberra bushfires in the ACT) and the sex, birth weight and gestational age of babies born to mothers who live in bushfire-affected areas (compared to those babies born to mothers who lived elsewhere). The planned study of birth outcomes uses a cohort method. It is intended that this will be supported by interviews and surveys which focus on the experience of pregnant women during bushfires and analysis of data from the Australian Government’s Longitudinal Study on Australian Children.
Effects of bushfire exposure on birth outcomes: A life history theory perspective
Megan's doctoral work examines the health effects of bushfire exposure on mothers and children. She completed a Bachelor of Social Science (Psychology) at RMIT in 2002 and a Master of Culture, Health and Medicine at the ANU in 2012. Megan has also worked in health research and for government in the areas of environmental protection, disaster response, and family policy. Recently, she published a paper with Dr Alison Behie on patterns of birth weight and gestational age following the 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria, Australia in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction.
O’Donnell, M.H. & Behie, A.M. (under review) Effects of bushfire disaster exposure on male
birth weight in an Australian population. Evolution, Medicine and Public Health.
Behie, A.M. & O’Donnell, M.H. (2015) The impact of prenatal smoking on age at menarche
in Australian females. Human Reproduction, 30(4),1-6, doi:10.1093/humrep/dev033
O’Donnell, M.H. & Behie, A.M. (2014) Adapting to disaster? A brief reply. Journal of
Biosocial Science, 47(3), 413-416 doi:10.1017/S0021932014000303
O’Donnell, M.H. & Behie, A.M. (2014) Adapting to disaster? A commentary on Hamamatsu
et al. (2014). Journal of Biosocial Science, 47(3), 413-416 doi:10.1017/S0021932014000285
O’Donnell, M.H. & Behie, A.M. (2013) Effects of bushfire stress on birth outcomes: a cohort
study of the Victorian Black Saturday bushfires. International Journal of Disaster Risk
Reduction, 5, 98-106
Hodgkinson, B., Haesler, E. J., Nay, R., O'Donnell, M. H., & McAuliffe, L. P. (2011)
Effectiveness of staffing models in residential, subacute, extended aged care settings on
patient and staff outcomes. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (6): Art. No.:
McAuliffe, L., Nay, R., O’Donnell, M., & Fetherstonhaugh, D. (2009) Pain assessment in
older people with dementia: literature review. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 65(1): 2-10.
O’Donnell, M., Nay, R. & Winbolt, M. (2009) Caring for older people in the community.
Kralik, D. & van Loon, A. (eds.) Community Health Care Nursing in Australia: Practice
Manual. Wiley-Blackwell Publishing: Oxford, UK.
Nay, R. & O’Donnell, M. (2008) Caring for older people in the community. Kralik, D. & van
Loon, A. (eds.) Community Health Care Nursing in Australia. Blackwell Publishing: Carlton,
Koch, B., Fitzgerald, L., & O’Donnell, M. (2007) Use it or lose it: Putting research into action.
Borbasi, S., Jackson, D., & Langford, R. (eds.) Navigating the Maze of Nursing Research
(2nd edition). Mosby, Sydney.
Bushfire Babies: Effects of bushfire exposure on births. Podium presentation. Australasian
Society for Human Biology 28th Annual Conference, December 2014
Fire Babies: Bushfire stress during pregnancy. Podium presentation. Three Minute Thesis
College Final. The Australian National University, September 2014
Bushfires and Births: The impacts of the Victorian (Australian) Black Saturday bushfires on
human reproductive outcomes. Poster presentation. Australasian Society for Human Biology
26th Annual Conference, December 2012
Clinical Practice Improvement Project. Podium presentation. Alzheimer’s Australia
Conference: A journey of passion and purpose, 2007