Researchers have been studying the impact of air pollution on pregnant women and their unborn babies for several years now. And the reports are far from encouraging. Most cities in the world are breathing polluted air. In a city like Delhi, air pollution is a severe problem as it is one of the most polluted cities in the world. The leading causes of air pollution in Delhi are heavy traffic, burning of fossil fuels by impoverished families while cooking in the open and post-harvest burning of crops by farmers in neighbouring states. Here is all you need to know about how air pollution affects pregnancy, symptoms to look for and how to avoid breathing unhealthy air when you are pregnant.
Some of the common symptoms of air pollution are:
- Chronic fatigue
- Decreased capacity of lung-function & shortness of breath
- Lung damage
Air pollution affects everyone. But pregnant women are especially vulnerable as the immune system is at its weakest during pregnancy.
What are the dangers of air pollution to pregnant women and their babies?
- Affects foetal growth: Continued exposure to lead and other pollutants can be a deterrent for foetal development and can sometimes result in malformation of the foetus.
- Low birth weight of babies: Globally, there are about 15 million premature births every year, with 20 percent of these births being in India. One of the major causes of low birth weight in new-borns is air-pollution
- According to Dr Archana Dhawan Bajaj, Gynaecologist in Delhi, risk of premature or preterm birth has been linked to air pollution exposure during pregnancy as pollution increases toxic chemicals in the blood. The toxicity causes immune system stress that can weaken the placenta leading to premature birth. It raises the risk of short-term and long-term health complications for the baby. She said, “Air pollution is associated with an unfavourable vaginal microbiota suggesting a relationship between environmental and biological risk factors that may further substantiate the risk of premature birth in pregnant women.” Apart from these points by the doctor, studies have shown that premature births in some cases are linked to exposure to particulate matter pollution. Children born preterm are at high risk for neurological disorders and physical disabilities. Research says that women exposed to high particulate matter pollution during their third semesters were twice as likely to deliver a child with autism.
- Asthma: Air pollution worsens asthma. In pregnant women, this can be fatal as asthma can cause pre-eclampsia, a condition that elevates blood pressure and impairs the liver’s functioning and the kidneys. If asthma is untreated, the baby can suffer from lack of oxygen resulting in poor growth, premature birth and low birth weight. Studies have also found that exposure to air pollution can put your baby at risk for developing asthma later in life as particulate matter can cross the placenta. If you are worried about the doctor’s fees, please use a health card online to make payment in easy instalments.
- Fertility: Multiple studies have pointed out the connection between air pollution and decreasing fertility rates in men and women. Research also links air pollution to miscarriages.
What is the solution? If you are pregnant and living in Delhi, apart from being in touch with your gynaecologist in Delhi, please follow the following steps diligently:
- Air quality index: Look up the air quality index for your zip code every day. If the pollution levels are of concern, then take measures to safeguard yourself and your unborn child by either staying indoors or shifting to a safer location if necessary.
- Plants: Get air-purifying plants like the spider and snake variety of plants that remove volatile organic compounds from the air. Some of these plants require little or no sunlight and can be placed anywhere inside your house. If you already have them in your balcony or terrace, move some of them inside your home. Plants can naturally filter your air by replacing carbon dioxide with fresh oxygen, helping you breathe healthier air.
- Air-purifier: Apart from outdoor pollution higher than outdoors. Solve this problem by purchasing air purifiers for your home. These devices remove everything from smoke to allergens and germs from your air—helping you and your baby grow in a healthier environment.
- Indoors: If the pollution levels are very high stay indoors. Avoid going out for a walk or exercise. Exercise lightly at home. Air pollutants like particulate matter will affect your skin even if you are wearing a gas mask. So if the forecast asks you to stay indoors, wear your mask and remain at home. If the doctor is not going to examine you physically, you can book a tele consult and pay using a health card online.
Pregnancy is a delicate state that is influenced by multiple factors. However, air pollution is something that you can learn to avoid.