Study Finds That Pollutants Can Cross Into a Pregnant Mum's Womb

Study Finds That Pollutants Can Cross Into a Pregnant Mum's Womb

Even your womb might be unable to fully protect your little one. 

Surely, we know that exposure to air pollution is never a good thing, especially for expectant mums. When it comes to the baby, though, we always imagine them safe and protected from pollutants in their mother’s womb. But a recent study shows this is not the case. It highlights the shocking effects of air pollution on unborn babies. 

Effects of Air Pollution on Unborn Babies: What Studies Reveal

air pollution on unborn babies

The effects of air pollution on unborn babies are alarming. Individuals who actually make a conscious effort to steer clear of these toxic particles are few and far between. 

Previous research has linked premature birth, low birth weight, infant mortality and childhood respiratory problems to expectant mothers who are exposed to air pollution. 

“We’ve known for a while that air pollution affects foetal development and can continue to affect babies after birth and throughout their lives,” said Dr Lisa Miyashita, a post-doctoral research scientist.

Although toxic air has often been strongly linked to harm in foetuses, how the damage is done is still unknown. 

A recent study at the European Respiratory Society International Congress adds to existing evidence about the effects of air pollution on unborn babies. Five non-smoking women who all delivered healthy babies had their placentas examined.

The research suggests that when a pregnant woman breathes in polluted air, sooty particles may reach her baby’s placenta.

It was found that “on average, each placenta contained around five square micrometres of this black substance,” which are harmful to the foetus. 

The black substance is believed to be tiny carbon particles and it backs up previous research results where the “inhaled pollution particles can move from the lungs into the circulation and then to the placenta,” according to Dr Norrice Liu, a researcher.

Digging Deeper into the Issue…

Researchers say it is quite possible the particles entered the foetuses too.

But what’s more worrying is that these particles do not need to enter the baby’s body to have an adverse effect on them. “If they have an effect on the placenta, this will have a direct impact on the foetus,” Liu added. 

So yes, despite being theoretically protected in the womb, your baby can still be affected by pollution. So what does that tell us, mums? You should never take the harmful effects of air pollution lightly. In fact, you should try to avoid breathing unhealthy air while carrying your baby.

air pollution on unborn babies

Effects of air pollution on unborn babies: Common car exhaust is a form of air pollution. | Source: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images

Common Symptoms of Prolonged Pollution Exposure

Common symptoms include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Eye and sinus irritation
  • Advanced respiratory diseases like bronchitis, asthma, and emphysema
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Decreased lung capacity and shortness of breath
  • Damage to lungs and heart
  • Cancer

Potential Dangers of Air Pollution on Pregnant Mums and Babies

air pollution on unborn babies

Image source: file photo

  • Increases the risk of premature birth and of low birth weight
  • Could deliver a child with autism
  • A reduction in intelligence
  • Could harm baby’s developing lungs but can permanently damage their developing brains
  • Increased chances of the baby developing asthma later in life 
  • Lower fertility rates
  • Could contribute to behavioural and cognitive problems in their childhood

Tips for Pregnant Mums on How to Minimise Risks

  • Avoid busy or less polluted roads when walking outdoors. 
  • Get an air purifier.
  • Try not to inhale exhaust from cars on busy streets directly.
  • Spend as much time as possible in parks. 
  • Avoid second-hand smoke — this largely contributes to the harm caused.
  • Opt for natural household cleaners. 
  • Use your vent hood when cooking.
  • Do routine checks for mould.
  • Use carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Check the real-time Air Quality Index (AQI) to determine if the area is at risk of air pollution. Use a mask if necessary.
  • Get air purifying plants. They will improve your mood too! 
  • If the forecast tells you to stay indoors, don’t do the opposite thinking that you are safer from using a mask.

Even if you’re wearing a gas mask, skin absorbs outdoor air pollution like particulate matter. Instead, stay home and keep your purifiers on.

air pollution on unborn babies

Source: Pixabay

Your little one is so precious and it’s always a delicate balance to ensure that they grow up healthy. 

Being a little more conscious today can help you and your child greatly. You probably didn’t know, but even a reduction of pollution levels, from moderately high to moderate, can lead to a beneficial effect on your developing foetus.


Source: The Guardian, American Pregnancy, TIME

Also READ: 

Pregnancy and pollution – your child’s at risk

How to protect yourself and your family from indoor air pollution in Singapore

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Written by

Jia Ling

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