Emily Oster

2 min Read Emily Oster

Emily Oster

How Dangerous Is an Electric Shock While Pregnant?

Emily Oster

2 min Read

What are the immediate and long-term risks to an 18-week-old fetus in the womb if the mother gets an electric shock?

Scenario: 30-year-old healthy mother is pregnant with her healthy 18-week baby. She’s working on her laptop when lightning hits the area and sends an electrical surge through the electric outlets. Her laptop is plugged in and she gets a significant electric shock through touching her laptop. She doesn’t fall or have any signs of burns but felt a significant shock from her right hand (perhaps down to her feet). She (terrified for her baby) rushes to the hospital to check the baby is okay, and an ultrasound confirms the baby’s heart rate is fine, at 143 bpm. Silver lining, she found out the sex of the baby during the same scan.

—Terrified of what I read on Google search “electric shock while pregnant”

This is absolutely terrifying. I’m so glad you are okay!

This is precisely a place where one needs to avoid Google, and possibly also avoid case reports in the medical literature. One can certainly find examples where a pregnancy was lost as a result of an electric shock. If we rely only on these examples, we struggle to see how large any risks are.

A 1997 study based on data from Toronto and Vermont does a much better job at answering your question. The authors here identify 31 women who had a significant electric shock during pregnancy and 31 control women in similar populations who did not. They compare their outcomes. Of the women, 28 in the electric shock group and 30 in the control group went on to have healthy babies. There were two miscarriages in the electric shock group and one in the control group. These numbers are statistically indistinguishable, meaning there is no evidence that the group who experienced the electric shock had worse pregnancy outcomes.

The reality is that this is a situation with a wide range of outcomes, and certainly an electric shock could pose a significant risk. However, most of the case reports suggest immediate or shortly delayed impacts. The fact that your baby was doing well at the hospital is a very good sign, and my guess is your doctor will do a bit more follow-up over the next short period, just out of an abundance of caution.

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