How indoor air pollution can be harmful to pregnant women

There’s no doubt that indoor air pollution can be a major problem for anyone, especially for expectant mothers because dirty air inside a home or office can affect breathing and cause a variety of side effects.

If you’re pregnant or are planning on having children in the future, here’s how indoor air pollution can affect your pregnancy.

Low birth weight

After a typical, healthy pregnancy, a full-term baby usually weighs between six and nine pounds. Low birth weight is defined as less than 2,500 grams, or five pounds, eight ounces. The Centers for Disease Control reports that about 8% of babies in the United States are born with low birth weight.

Multiple studies have observed the effects of air pollution on birth weight. One study conducted in Los Angeles investigated obstetric records of births by non-smoking women. Mothers living in more polluted areas gave birth to babies who weighed, on average, 314 grams, or 0.69 pounds, less than infants who were born to women residing in less polluted areas.

Another study from China observed women who were pregnant during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a two-month period when the city was required to lower emissions and improve air quality. The study revealed mothers who were eight months pregnant during the Olympics gave birth to babies who were 0.8 ounces heavier, in contrast to women who delivered during the same calendar months in previous years.

Preterm birth

Babies born before the 37th week of gestation are considered preterm and are at risk for neurological disorders and permanent physical disabilities, as well as for breathing difficulties, cardiac problems, an inability to maintain body temperature, an immature digestive system, and retinopathy. While premature birth can happen to anyone for many reasons, air pollution is one possible reason you should try to avoid.

Several studies have found links between air pollution and preterm birth. One by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) at the University of York revealed that “in 2010, about 2.7 million preterm births globally — or 18% of all preterm births — were associated with outdoor exposure to fine particulate matter.” A Swedish study published in 2013 showed a correlation between first-trimester ozone exposure and the incidence of preterm birth, while a National Institutes of Health study suggested air pollution exposure during a second pregnancy may increase the chances of preterm birth.

Autism spectrum disorder

According to a 2014 study from the Harvard School of Public Health, expectant mothers who are exposed to high levels of fine particulate matter during the third trimester could have twice the risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) than pregnant women living in areas with low particulate matter. The researchers did compile data during all three trimesters of pregnancy, but they noted that the “only statistically significant association” between fine particulate matter and autism spectrum disorder occurred during the third trimester.

The study followed women from 14 states in all regions of the continental United States. It also considered factors such as population density, elevation, and distance to freeways and other particulate sources, like power-generating utilities and waste combustors.

Asthma

For pregnant women who have asthma, as long as it is well controlled, the condition poses no significant risk to the mother or the unborn baby. Uncontrolled asthma during pregnancy, however, can lead to high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia, or premature delivery. No matter how well-controlled a person’s asthma, air pollution can worsen asthma symptoms.

In addition, recent research has shown air pollution exposure during pregnancy may increase the likelihood of the baby developing asthma later in life. A 2016 study looked at the role of air pollution from traffic sources in urban areas. Researchers discovered that “children whose mothers lived close to highways during pregnancy had a 25% increased relative risk of developing asthma before the age of five.”

Fertility challenges and miscarriage

Multiple studies, including a 2018 systematic review of literature, have suggested that “air pollution could represent a matter of concern for female infertility.” In fact, one study found that fertility rates in northern California increased when eight plants burning coal and oil closed down, reducing the levels of fine particulate matter and nitrogen oxide.

Scientists have also devoted much effort to studying the effects of air quality on miscarriage, often called spontaneous pregnancy loss in the medical community. They have concluded that “short-term exposure to elevated levels of air pollutants was associated with higher risk for spontaneous pregnancy loss.”

Other risks and takeaways

When it comes to air pollution and pregnancy safety, researchers have also found links to increases in gestational diabetes in expectant mothers, high blood pressure in children, and delayed psychomotor development. However, it is important to note that most studies so far have established only correlations between polluted air and disease, rather than a direct cause and effect.

While the research is compelling, remember, in some cases, scientists have not determined which time period — week, month, or trimester — is most susceptible to the dangers of air pollution. In addition, most studies have focused on outdoor air pollutants, so more research is necessary to understand the effects of poor indoor air quality on pregnancy.

Source – hvac.com

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