Can Fireworks Damage My Unborn Baby's Ears?

What’s the best season for pregnancy? From my own experience, it’s easier to have a big belly during the cooler months of fall and winter. Being heavily pregnant over the summer is tough — the heat feels extra stifling, you're sweating before you even step outside, and all the summer parties that used to be fun are now accompanied by a long list of concerns and forbidden items including alcohol, unsafe foods, and loud noises. With so many of these things prevalent at 4th of July celebrations, you're probably wondering, can fireworks damage my unborn baby's ears?

Not if you don't get too close — that's the short answer from Romper's review of the latest scientific research into fetal auditory system development and the effects of different decibel levels on the human ear. However, your baby's gestational age is also important; there are several factors you need to take into consideration as you plan your Independence Day celebrations. Although your party experience does change while pregnant, it doesn’t mean there’s no fun to be had at all. Since you’re skipping alcohol, you can sip on water and indulge in an extra dessert instead. And if you do decide to sit out the fireworks this year, you can always make your own at home with your partner.

The first thing to consider is your distance from the fireworks show. Those colorful explosions can reach up to 155 decibels, according to the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASLHA), which also warned that anything louder than 85 decibels could lead to irreversible hearing damage. However, unless you're setting off fireworks in your own backyard, you're probably far enough away from the source of the noise to avoid damage. The ASLHA recommends putting a distance of at least 500 feet between yourself and the fireworks. So to be on the safe side while pregnant, skip any DIY fireworks shows this year. If you feel that the holiday just isn't the same without fireworks, stick to your city or town's official display and find a comfortably distant vantage point to watch from.

While speech language and hearing experts urge everyone, pregnant or not, to be cautious about loud noise exposure, pregnant women have special concerns about their unborn baby. Scientific research into the development of a fetus's auditory system shows that the effects of fireworks on your unborn child will depend on how far along you are. According to a 2011 study published in The Anatomical Record, the beginning of the human cochlea — the part of your inner ear that processes sound — is present in fetuses as early as nine weeks gestation. However, research on "fetal responsiveness to an acoustic stimulus" published in Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology shows that 20 weeks is the earliest age at which in-utero babies react to external sounds.

So if you are in the first half of your pregnancy, you should still avoid close proximity to fireworks and other loud noises, but you don't need to worry about your baby feeling scared or otherwise disturbed by your 4th of July merriment. From about 20 weeks on, fetuses in the womb have been shown to react to noise stimuli with movement and heart rate acceleration, according to a study on fetus brain development that appeared in Developmental Review. That isn't necessarily a bad thing — your unborn baby is exposed to a variety of sounds and noises all day long — but again, the more distance you put between your unborn baby and fireworks, the better.