You’re taking prenatal vitamins, following a healthy diet, and paying regular visits to your OB/GYN. These are all necessities for a healthy pregnancy. Equally important is the air you breathe. According to the American Lung Association’s 2016 State of the Air report, one in two people live in communities with unhealthy air. Luckily there are things you can do to improve air quality both indoors and out. Here’s what you need to know about air pollution and pregnancy.
Effects of air pollution exposure during pregnancy
Poor air quality is associated with a number of adverse health effects; from cardiac and respiratory problems to cognitive decline. It can even lead to death. Research suggests that air pollution is particularly detrimental to children during pregnancy. In fact, researchers have detected negative effects in both mother and fetus from air pollution levels below current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. A large-scale study revealed that, in a single year, air pollution was the cause of 16,000 premature births in the U.S. alone.
The major culprit is particle pollution, a combination of toxic solid and liquid particles floating around in the air we breathe. They irritate the lungs, eyes, and throat and make breathing difficult. Not to mention their link to lung cancer. Larger particles can often be coughed or sneezed out of the body. Smaller particles, however, get trapped in the lungs or find their way into the bloodstream. Sources include vehicle exhaust, cigarette smoke and waste incineration.
Exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), the most common particle pollutants, has been linked to premature birth, low birthweight and, in extreme cases, infant mortality. It’s also been associated with greater risk of autism and obesity later in childhood.
A 2015 study of 40 children found that the higher the level of PAHs they were exposed to during pregnancy, the greater the reduction of white matter in the left hemisphere of the brain. Loss of white matter in that region is associated with slower cognitive processing and behavioral problems. When researchers scanned these children’s brains again at age 5, they found that postnatal exposure to the same pollutants had negatively impacted the development of white matter in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain tied to concentration, reasoning, judgment, and problem-solving ability.
Less air pollution vastly improves pregnancy outcomes
Real-world evidence has shown that reducing air pollution is instrumental in protecting our children’s health. Children in Southern California studied from 2007-2011 had greater lung function than those of the same age and in the same communities from a 1993-2001 study when the air was dirtier. In Beijing, temporary pollution reduction measures ahead of and during the 2008 Olympics resulted in birth weights an average of 23 grams heavier than babies born prior to the stricter regulations. And when air pollution levels in Switzerland took a slight dip during the 1990s, school children observed over a nine-year period experienced fewer episodes of chronic and nocturnal dry cough, bronchitis, common cold and conjunctivitis symptoms.
You shouldn’t have to wait for local, state, or national pollution controls to make a difference in air quality for your baby. Here are 10 steps you can take to protect your family from air pollution exposure.
10 ways to protect your baby from air pollution
- Check local radio, television, and newspapers for daily air pollution forecasts and stay indoors when levels are high. You can also go to airnow.gov or download the State of the Air app from The American Lung Association.
- Limit time in the car and steer clear of high-traffic areas when possible to limit exposure to vehicle exhaust.
- Trade gasoline-powered machines for hand-powered or electric when doing lawn work.
- Ban smoking in your home. If you’re a smoker, now’s the time to quit.
- Whisk away air pollution from cooking by using the exhaust fan and making sure your kitchen is well-ventilated. In fact, exhaust fans that vent to the outside keep the indoor air cleaner than recirculation exhaust fans. Besides cigarette smoke, cooking is one of the highest sources of pollution in homes.
- Rid your home of fragrant and perfumed products like air fresheners, cologne, perfume, and cleaners. They may contain toxic chemicals that get into the air.
- Use natural cleaners like vinegar, peroxide, and baking soda, or choose nontoxic brands.
- Make sure gas stoves and central heating and air-conditioning systems are properly installed and well-maintained.
- Have your home checked for radon, a radioactive gas. You can either purchase a kit or hire a professional inspector.
- Invest in a home or room air purifier like the IQAir HealthPro Plus or Perfect 16 to filter harmful pollutants out of the air.
Better air quality from the start can have long-lasting benefits for your baby. Knowing the risks of air pollution and taking steps to avoid dirty air go a long way toward helping your little one breathe easier.
The website newparents.iqair.com is an excellent resource for new and expecting parents. Consider bookmarking it. You can then refer to it whenever you have questions about protecting your baby from air pollution.
Air Quality Life is brought to you by The IQAir Group, the world’s leading innovator of Indoor Air Quality solutions since 1963. This online publication is designed to educate and inform the public about the latest research and news affecting indoor and outdoor air quality.