During pregnancy, problems that are usually minor can become catastrophic. Eating the wrong foods, catching the flu, or even cleaning a litter box can result in serious complications or even death for the mother or baby. That’s why I was scared when, 22 weeks into pregnancy, I got a strong zap from a 220-volt power outlet while I was installing a washing machine. My first thought (after “OUCH!”) was, “How dangerous is electric shock in pregnancy?” If you’re expecting and you’ve recently been hit with a jolt, you’re probably wondering the exact same thing.
The first thing I did was to call my midwife. Calling your prenatal health care provider as soon as possible after an accident or injury (no matter how mild it may seem) is always the safest bet during pregnancy. Your midwife or obstetrician can reassure you that everything’s okay, or she may ask you to come to the office for a check-up or pay a visit to your nearest E.R. or labor and delivery unit. In my case, because it was a fairly strong shock and the office was about to close, my midwife told me to go to the emergency room.
Unfortunately, electric shock does seem to be very dangerous during pregnancy, so following your health care provider’s guidance is extremely important. There isn’t a lot of medical information about electric shock during pregnancy, but one review published in The Journal of Emergency Medicine had some pretty grim findings. It states, “There were 15 victims of electric shock in pregnancy. Fetal mortality (N = 11) was 73 percent, and there was only one normal pregnancy following electric shock. The fetus is much less resistant to electric shock than the mother. Any woman who suffers from an electric shock in pregnancy, however minor, requires prompt fetal monitoring and careful obstetric supervision.”
A 73 percent death rate for the unborn babies of shocked moms-to-be is pretty scary, which is why you need to get help immediately if you’ve been zapped and you’re expecting. Remember that the human body is made mostly of water, with a good amount of metal mixed in. It conducts electricity easily, which means that an electric shock can pretty easily find its way from your fingertips to your womb. If the baby survives-which only one out of four did in the study-there’s still a risk that the jolt could cause preterm labor.
Still, we need to step back for a second before believing the study’s findings at face value. With only 15 pregnant women studied, there’s no way to draw conclusions with any certainty. To give reliable results, we would need a study investigating hundreds of times as many moms-to-be after an electric shock. Another factor to consider is that all women who were discussed in the review had tried to get medical care after the jolt. It’s likely that many, many more pregnant women had experienced an electric shock, but that most moms didn’t seek help unless something seemed “wrong” after the accident. We definitely don’t need to assume that pregnant women who have been shocked by electricity really do have a 73 percent chance of losing their babies, but at the same time, it’s important to get help to err on the side of caution.
My run-in with electric shock during pregnancy had a good outcome. The health care providers at the E.R. monitored my heart and my unborn son’s heart for a little while and asked me a few questions to rule out the possibility of preterm labor. Ultimately, they found that everything seemed just fine and that the shock probably hadn’t reached the baby, but I’m still glad that I was seen for an evaluation, because it put my fears at ease. If you’re expecting and you’ve gotten a zap of electricity, go ahead and make a phone call to your health care provider to make sure everything’s okay. The only way to be sure that it didn’t hurt your baby is to get a careful look-over as soon as possible.