Your Pregnancy Matters

4 tips to reduce air pollution risks during pregnancy

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Research has shown that air pollution can negatively affect unborn babies. Dallas-Fort Worth ranks as the 17th most-polluted metropolitan area in the country due to high ozone levels.

You know certain medications and foods can negatively affect your pregnancy, and you’ve taken care to avoid them. But there are some factors can’t be avoided, such as the air we breathe. And Dallas-Fort Worth is home to more than its fair share of air pollution.

The American Lung Association’s 2019 State of the Air report showed Dallas-Fort Worth to be one of the cleanest areas for short-term particle pollution, but our high ozone levels rank us as the 17th most-polluted metropolitan area in the country.

Air pollution such as ozone, chemical fumes, vehicle exhaust, and second-hand smoke can cause eye irritation, coughing, shortness of breath, and damage to the lungs and heart. Studies based on air quality are challenging and typically use an individual’s address to assign exposure. And researchers can’t know exactly which pollutants an individual breathed in or for how long they were exposed.

In the Metroplex, 2.6 million people are at risk from poor air quality. Those most at risk include children, adults older than 65, and people with chronic conditions such as asthma, lung disease, heart disease, and diabetes. Research also shows that air pollution can affect unborn babies. 

How does air pollution affect pregnancy?

In a revealing 2018 study, researchers collected and analyzed placentas from new mothers living in London, which has high levels of air pollution. They discovered small black spots, thought to be tiny carbon particles from the air, trapped inside cells called macrophages.

This is the first evidence we’ve seen that particles inhaled by a pregnant woman can move through the lungs, into the bloodstream, and into the placenta. However, we don’t yet understand what effect those particles might have on the developing fetus. 

Other research has suggested that higher exposure to air pollution results in lower birthweights, abnormal lung development, higher rates of infant mortality, and increased preterm births, as well as inflammation in the mother. A 2019 study published in Nature suggests that exposure to certain air pollutants is associated with first-trimester pregnancy loss.

Many pediatricians also believe air quality can have long-term impacts on children’s health. One study suggested that babies who were exposed to air pollutants in utero were likely to become obese in childhood. Early pollution exposure also may contribute to the development of immunological diseases like asthma.

Research has suggested that higher exposure to air pollution results in lower birthweights, abnormal lung development, higher rates of infant mortality, and increased preterm births, as well as inflammation in the mother.

Robyn Horsager, M.D.

4 tips to protect yourself and your baby from air pollution

It’s impossible to avoid every harmful substance in the air you breathe, but you can follow these tips to decrease the air pollution to which your baby is exposed.

1. Pay attention to the quality of the air around you.

Make a habit of checking your area’s air quality index (AQI) at airnow.gov. This website tells you how clean or polluted the outdoor air is, along with associated health effects and how you can protect the health of you and your loved ones.

2. Avoid being outside when the air quality is low.

Even if you wear a mask, whatever is in the air can still be absorbed through your skin. If you have respiratory problems such as asthma and allergies, avoid exercising outdoors during high-pollution days. Consider investing in an air purifier for your home to filter harmful pollutants out of the air.

Smoking Cessation Program 118

3. Stay away from smoke.

Ban smoking in your home and car and stay away from places where people smoke if possible. If you are a smoker, now is the time to quit. If you’re ready to quit smoking before or during pregnancy, call 214-761-3139 or email canceranswerline@utsouthwestern.edu to enroll.

4. Get educated and active.

Learn about the effects that air pollution has on public health and consider supporting efforts to study the impacts of air pollution on fetal health. Think about your contribution to air pollution and take steps to become more energy efficient at home 

Talk to your doctor if you are concerned or have continued or recurring symptoms on poor air quality days. Many factors can influence the health of you and your baby, but exposure to air pollution can be minimized. By taking a few simple steps to avoid dirty air, you can keep yourself and your baby healthier.

Do you need to see an Ob/Gyn? Call 214-645-8300 or request an appointment online.

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