The risks of air pollution on pregnant women
For both pregnant women and the growing foetus, there are a great deal of risks that they face from the exposure of air pollution. Numerous studies have focused on this very subject, and the findings are frightening: air pollution can lead to serious birth outcomes. Read on to discover the risks posed by poor air quality on foetal development and how pregnant women can protect themselves and their unborn children from its harmful effects.
What are the risks caused by air pollution?
A number of studies have focused on the effects of air pollution on pregnant women and foetal development. The results have shown that pregnant women who are regularly exposed to indoor air pollution, living in urban environments, or are exposed to cigarette smoke are the most at risk. Some of the negative effects can be stillbirth, preterm birth, low birth weight (LBW), or congenital abnormalities and defects.
A study in 2019 found a correlation between air pollution levels and preterm labour, a condition that can lead to many other issues for a growing baby including underdeveloped lungs and death of the baby during birth or shortly afterwards. The study focused mostly on the dangers of ozone, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and nitrogen dioxide, all substances consistently found in polluted air1.
Another analysis performed in 2013 found that the presence of nitrogen dioxide in the air led to an increased risk of low birth weight.
When a pregnant woman is exposed to the contaminants present in air pollution, these contaminants can cross the placenta. In 2018, a study of new mothers in London discovered small black spots on their placentas. These black spots are believed to be tiny carbon particles breathed in from the air which then became trapped inside cells of the placenta. These particles were inhaled, and due to their small size, they were able to move through the lungs and into the bloodstream, which then allows them to move quickly and with ease through the rest of the body3.
There are certain factors that may impact how severely the effects of air pollution on a foetus are, such as:
- During which development stage the baby is exposed
- The duration and quantity of exposure
- The specific pollutant to which the baby is exposed1
A study in Pennsylvania, United States, showed that when a woman who is pregnant is exposed to air pollutants within the first trimester of her pregnancy, it causes an increased risk of conditions such as preeclampsia and high blood pressure. Both of these conditions may be dangerous for both the parent and the baby, potentially requiring early birth.
An additional study in 2020 found that pregnant women exposed to particulate matter (PM), carbon monoxide (CO), and cooking smoke may lead to increased risk of spontaneous abortion and stillbirth. PM10 exposure throughout a pregnant woman’s entire pregnancy can lead to a higher risk of spontaneous abortion, whereas exposure to PM2.5 and PM10 throughout the third trimester can increase the risk of stillbirth2.
Unfortunately, the risks of air pollution do not affect all populations equally. Low-income and minority groups not only tend to live more often in polluted areas, but other risk factors aggravate the effects of air pollution (including lack of access to quality prenatal care, food, and/or housing, for example).
Furthermore, the effects of air pollution continue to harm a child as they grow, with some studies pointing to an increased risk of obesity and the development of immunological diseases such as asthma for children that were exposed to air pollution in the womb3. Read more about the effects of air pollution on children here.
How can pregnant women protect themselves?
The studies are irrefutable. So, how can pregnant women protect both themselves and the baby from the harm caused by air pollution?
One way is for pregnant women to stay well-informed on the air quality where they live. In the UK, the Department of Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has created a website that allows residents to track the status of air quality on any given day. Check regularly to get an understanding of pollution trends in your area: https://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/. When the air quality is low, pregnant women should avoid the outdoors as much as possible. Another helpful way to avoid the harmful effects of air pollution is to avoid all types of smoke, especially cigarette smoke.
Sometimes exposure to air pollution is beyond our control. The air pollution from outdoors often gets trapped indoors, causing our homes and workplaces to be 7-10 times more polluted than outdoors. Also, building materials used in construction release chemicals for years that can lead to ‘sick building syndrome’. This is when people living or working in a particular building fall ill, often due to lack of ventilation. The best way to avoid indoor air pollution is to invest in and install an air purifier.
An air purifier can help protect you from a variety of pollutants found in our breathing air, some of which may include germs (viruses and bacteria), moulds and spores, and particulate matter. Here at Eoleaf, our air purifiers come equipped with the most advanced filtration technologies available. Our filters are all HEPA (high efficiency particulate air)-certified, meaning that they can filter 99.97% of particles of a size greater than or equal to a diameter of 0.01 µm in a single pass. Our devices also contain activated carbon filters which remove the very pollutants from the air that may cause air pollution-caused diseases, especially ones that endanger pregnant women and their foetuses. Reach out to our team of experts today to find the device that best suits your needs and start breathing fresher, purer air.
1 MediLexicon International. (2020, October 29). Air pollution and pregnancy outcomes: What are the effects? Medical News Today. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/air-pollution-and-pregnancy-outcomes#air-pollution-and-pregnancy
2 Grippo A, Zhang J, Chu L, Guo Y, Qiao L, Zhang J, Myneni AA, Mu L. Air pollution exposure during pregnancy and spontaneous abortion and stillbirth. Rev Environ Health. 2018 Sep 25;33(3):247-264. doi: 10.1515/reveh-2017-0033. PMID: 29975668; PMCID: PMC7183911.
3 Horsager-Boehrer, R. (2019, October 15). 4 tips to reduce air pollution risks during pregnancy: Your pregnancy matters: UT southwestern medical center. Your Pregnancy Matters. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from https://utswmed.org/medblog/4-tips-reduce-air-pollution-risks-during-pregnancy/