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Women's Health

Discover everything you need to know about women’s nutrition in this section devoted solely to woman’s issues. Topics covered include weight gain during menopause, and tips on how to detect and avoid breast cancer.

How Indoor Air Pollution Affects Pregnancy

While it might not be visible, the link between indoor air pollution and pregnancy is becoming more clear. Learn how both mom and baby can be affected and tips to breathe in clean air.

How Indoor Air Pollution Affects Pregnancy


Since the 1970s, it has become clear air pollution and pregnancy is a concern for both the mother and developing fetus. Expectant mothers should know what to be concerned about outdoor and indoor air pollution. 

However, how does one know if air pollution exists? What is the link between pregnancy and air pollution that might be hiding indoors?

We reveal ways to help clean the air you breathe to lower the health effects of air pollution on pregnancy here!

How to Know If There Is Indoor Air Pollution

Smoke, industrial by-products, vehicle exhaust, and agriculture are some of the main contributors to air pollution. However, air pollutants can also be two to five times higher inside compared to outside air.

Indoor air pollution is a big concern in developing countries where low to middle-income families use in-home fires for cooking and heating. However, pregnant women in higher-income countries are still at risk for indoor air pollution and remain alert.

Pregnant women often spend the majority of their time indoors usually at home and increasing in amount as pregnancy progresses. According to the American Pregnancy Association, Americans can spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors. 

A good place to start for knowing air indoor air pollution risk is by testing or installing devices to measure harmful pollutants. These may include:

• Carbon monoxide
• Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH)
• Volatile organic compounds (VOC)
• Radon 

Routine checks for mold are also recommended in indoor spaces. 

Potential Birth & Health Issues

The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests air and household air pollution causes about seven million premature deaths each year. These deaths are mostly caused by increased mortality from heart disease, lung cancer, and other health conditions.

Related to pregnancy, research on maternal exposure to indoor air pollutants and health consequences to the fetus is limited and ongoing. What is known about air pollution and pregnancy risk is considered true for outdoor and indoor air pollutants. What’s more, both are considered potentially dangerous. 

These below health issues may be a result of exposure to indoor air pollutants, but there are other reasons for these health conditions as well. Speak with a healthcare team for further individual recommendations for limiting risk for these conditions.

Low-Birth-Weight or Preterm Birth

One of the main concerns for maternal exposure to air pollution, especially second-hand smoke, is the increased risk for preterm birth and/or low birth weight babies.

Low-birth weight is defined as a baby weighing less than 5 pounds 8 ounces at birth. Low-birth weight often (but not always) goes hand-in-hand with delivering a preterm birth, or before 37 weeks of gestation.

Babies born preterm or at a low-birth-weight are at an increased risk for breathing difficulties, neurological disorders, infections, and possibly other physical deformities.

Autism

Particulate matter, also known as particle pollution, in the air is considered microscopic liquid and solids that get inhaled with air. These particles can vary from where they come from and in size. Air pollutants from smoke, chemicals, industrial waste, vehicles, etc. are considered sources of particulate matter.

One Harvard study suggests exposure to high particulate matter pollution, specifically in the third trimester, can increase the risk for autism. Interestingly, the same high exposure of high particulate matter pollution earlier in pregnancy was not associated with increased autism risk.

Asthma and Preeclampsia

Not surprisingly, indoor or outdoor air pollution can exacerbate asthma symptoms. If a pregnant woman has asthma, her risk for preeclampsia can increase if symptoms are untreated. Preeclampsia is elevated blood pressure during pregnancy and can negatively impact liver and kidney function.

Limiting exposure to air pollutants is important for pregnant women who have asthma. Increased asthma symptoms may cause lowered oxygen delivery to the fetus and increase the risk for low-birth-weight, preterm delivery, and hinder growth in the uterus.

Air pollution exposure during pregnancy can also increase the risk for the baby developing asthma later in life. 

Miscarriage

Unfortunately, air pollution exposure may lead to increased risk for miscarriage and even lowered fertility rates in men and women. The exact amount of pollution levels and which pollutants may increase this risk are still being researched.

Ways to Protect Pregnant Women

What pregnant women should know about indoor air pollution is what the main pollutants are and how to limit their exposure. Testing indoor space for known harmful pollutants like mold, carbon monoxide, and radon are important first steps. 

The following are ways that help limit indoor air pollution levels in the home:

• Using a vent hood when cooking 
• Using natural cleaners instead of harsh chemicals
• Limiting use of hairspray and pesticides
• Avoid burning kerosene wick lamps and fires inside
• Avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke
• Keeping windows closed if living near a major highway or heavy traffic area

Purify Indoor Air

The American Pregnancy Association recommends purchasing an air purifier for the home. The quality and power of air purifiers can vary but are mostly designed to remove smoke, allergens, mold, and other germs from indoor air space. 

Another way to naturally improve air quality is to have air-purifying plants in the house. Common air-purifying plants include spider and snake plants, which help remove compounds from the air and put out fresh oxygen. It is recommended to put one plant for every 100 feet of living space for promoting clean indoor air.

References:

Air Pollution. https://www.who.int/health-topics/air-pollution

Franklin P, Tan M, Hemy N, Hall GL. Maternal Exposure to Indoor Air Pollution and Birth Outcomes. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2019;16(8):1364. doi:10.3390/ijerph16081364

How Air Pollution Impacts Pregnancy. https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/how-air-pollution-impacts-pregnancy-25692.

Sydney Lappe's Photo
Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on November 11, 2020. Updated on November 16, 2020.

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