Last updated on Feb 17th, 2021 at 03:35 pm

We know pollution is bad and can impact our health. However, a new landmark study has found exposure to air pollution has been linked to a baby’s growth in-utero. Scientists from the University of Aberdeen reviewed over 10 years’ worth of evidence taken from around the world.

The study looked to establish the extent to which a mother’s exposure to air pollution, diet, alcohol and chemicals affect the growth of her baby. The study found evidence that exposure to nitrogen dioxide resulted in a smaller head size. Nitrogen dioxide is generated by vehicle traffic, but is also prevalent in cigarette smoke, butane or kerosene heaters and stoves.

ALSO SEE: Reducing the chemical burden during pregnancy

The study’s findings

The lead researcher, Professor Steve Turner, found: “In our research, we looked at all the studies that measured the effects of mothers’ exposures to everyday substances including air pollutants, alcohol, and diet on the size of the unborn baby, measured through ultrasound from halfway through the pregnancy onwards.” He adds that they looked at unborn babies to see if the mother’s exposure to these factors affects foetal development, using medical literature dating back 13 years. “The seven studies where air pollution was measured and linked to foetal size were from different geographic areas of the world, including Australia, the US and several countries in Europe. However, in all the studies the evidence was clear that in the third trimester, in particular, exposure to nitrogen dioxide reduced foetal growth.”

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Being small at birth has been linked to an increased risk for several conditions, including coronary artery disease, type II diabetes and asthma. “Our research has shown the link between exposure and foetal growth is apparent well before birth, so any potential interventions need to happen in the early stages of pregnancy.”

ALSO SEE: 4 essential micronutrients for a healthy pregnancy

What is air pollution?

Polluted air is made up of ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, vehicle exhaust emissions, building emissions, second-hand smoke, dust and chemicals. Common symptoms of prolonged air pollution include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Eye and nose irritation
  • Respiratory conditions such as bronchitis and asthma
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Damage to the heart and lungs
  • Cancer

Did you know?

A study out of Beijing (considered to be one of the world’s most polluted cities) looked at women who were pregnant during the 2008 Olympics, a two-month period when the city was mandated to lower emissions and improve air quality. The study found women who were in their eighth month of pregnancy delivered babes who were 23g heavier than those women who delivered during the same calendar months in the years prior.

Concerned about air pollution? Try these three things:

  1. Use an air purifier: According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend up to 90% of their lives indoors where pollutants are considered to be two to five times higher than outdoors. An air purifier will help remove smoke, allergens, mould and germs.
  2. Use natural or organic household disinfectants and cleaners.
  3. Green your home. Plants naturally filter the air, replacing carbon dioxide with fresh oxygen. Ideally, you should have one plant for every 10 square metres. Good plant choices include: spider plant, Chinese evergreen, peace lily, aloe vera and azaleas.