We simply cannot escape inhaling polluted air in this day and age. But what if you are pregnant? Will it have any effect on your unborn child? Air pollution isn’t good for anybody, and we all know that. However, the effect it has on infants or unborn children could be more adverse.
There are existing studies which show that prenatal exposure to polluted air (NO2) could result in low birth weight in infants (1). There have been other studies which link the exposure to ozone, during the first trimester of pregnancy, to premature birth (2). These studies call for further research in this area to establish or confirm the role of air pollutants on a pregnant woman and her unborn child.
What The Research Says
The new research which was done by the European Respiratory International Congress found the presence of air pollutants in the placenta of mothers. Pollutants which are created by the burning of fossil fuels, like tiny carbon particles, were found in the mother’s placenta (3).
The study was done on five pregnant women who were staying in London during their pregnancies. All the women were non-smokers and were having uncomplicated pregnancies. They all had planned C-section and gave birth to healthy babies. The placenta of these women was assessed post birth. Around 3,500 placental macrophage cells were examined by the researchers. Macrophages can be found in different parts of our body. They absorb the harmful particles in our bodies such as bacteria and other pollutants, to provide better immunity. The macrophages which are present in the placenta help to protect the fetus (4).
They found 60 cells from 5 placentae which had small black areas in them. These black areas were considered to be carbon particles. On average, the placenta from each mother contained around 5 square micrometers of the carbon particle. They further studied the placental macrophages of two placentas in depth with the help of an electron microscope and found the same material which was believed to be small particles of carbon.
Dr. Norrice Liu – a pediatrician and clinical research fellow at Queen Mary University, London says that this is the first research which proves that inhaled pollutants can travel from the mother’s lungs into the circulation and finally to her placenta. According to him, if the pollution particles can have an effect on the placenta, it can have an impact on the infant as well. Though it is not entirely sure if these particles can move into the fetus, we cannot completely rule out that possibility (5).
Previously, research was done to identify and measure these particles by examining macrophages in the lower respiratory tract of people. Checking the macrophages in other organs was to further establish the fact that these particles move down the airway to different parts of the body (6).
Effect Of Air Pollution On Kids
Professor Mina Gaga, who is the president of the European Respiratory Society, believes that stricter policies need to be made to provide clean air for everyone worldwide. She says only then can we lower its impact on health. She says that they are already seeing young adults who are suffering from health issues (7).
Another report from UNICEF shows that 600,000 children who are under the age of 5, get affected by air pollution every year, which leads to them developing life-threatening conditions. Children are more vulnerable to air pollution and can breathe in polluted air faster than adults. There are 300 million children who breathe air so toxic that it exceeds the international limits by over 6 times (8).
With new studies throwing light on the effects of air pollution on unborn children, it’s high time that strict actions are taken to curb air pollution. New measures need to be enforced to provide clean and safe air for everyone, especially kids.