(Last Updated On: April 27, 2023)

Air Pollution and Pregnancy

becky dotson

By Becky Dotson

5 min read

When women become pregnant, they’re very aware of how the things they put in their body can affect the baby. You have to be careful with certain medicines and certain foods – but if the air we breathe is polluted, it can have a negative impact on pregnancy.

pregnancy and air pollution

What is Air Pollution?

Air pollution is made up of chemicals, dust, vehicle exhaust, ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, factory and power plant emissions, and secondhand smoke, among other things. And you don’t have to live in a large city to be exposed to air pollution – it’s a problem everywhere. Some places though can be worse than others.

How Can Air Pollution Affect My Pregnancy?

Air pollution can affect our bodies in a lot of ways. It can cause respiratory issues, trigger asthma attacks and cause long-term health problems. But for women who are pregnant it has the potential to affect your unborn baby. Researchers still aren’t sure at what point in pregnancy a baby is most vulnerable to air pollution or even how long the exposure has to be to have an effect. More research is needed to determine that. But there is enough evidence to show high levels of air pollution can have a negative impact on an unborn child.

  • Low Birth Weight
    Generally speaking, a baby is considered healthy when they are born between 38 and 40 weeks and weigh between six and nine pounds at birth. A baby who weighs under five pounds, eight ounces is considered to be of low birth weight. Studies show, and many experts, believe air pollution can be a reason for this issue in newborns.
  • Preterm Birth
    A baby is considered premature when he or she is born before 37 weeks. Premature birth can happen for many reasons, but a study done by The Stockholm Environment Institute showed nearly three million babies worldwide are born premature every year because of air pollution. When a baby is born premature their lungs and bodies can be underdeveloped. Premature babies also have a higher risk of long-term health issues. According to the National Institutes of Health, the risk for a preterm birth because of air pollution is greater with a second pregnancy than the first one.
  • Stillbirth
    When a baby dies after 20 weeks of pregnancy it is considered to be a stillbirth. A study done in China, which has a high incidence of air pollution, showed a link between air pollution exposure and stillbirth. The study showed the risk was highest during a woman’s third trimester.
  • Miscarriage
    Miscarriage happens early in a pregnancy – usually between eight and ten weeks, or in the first trimester. Research has shown exposure to high levels of air pollution can cause women to miscarry their babies.
  • Long-term Health Issues
    A baby’s exposure to air pollution during pregnancy can have a long-term impact. Poor air quality exposure in utero has been linked to obesity in childhood and the cause of asthma in some children.
  • Gestational Diabetes
    Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that some women develop when they are pregnant. It happens when your body can’t make enough insulin and all expectant mothers are tested for it, usually around 24 weeks. A recent study by the University of Southern California, Irvine shows women who live in areas with poor air quality have an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes. The study only looked at women who live in Southern California, but it can serve as another strong example of why exposure to poor quality can be so problematic.
  • Preeclampsia
    Some expecting mothers develop preeclampsia. The condition usually happens after your 20th week of pregnancy. It causes high blood pressure, swelling in your hands and feet and high amounts of protein in your urine that can lead to kidney problems. Studies have shown a correlation between air pollution in the first trimester and preeclampsia.

How Can I Protect My Unborn Child?

Since you can’t change the quality of the air outside by yourself, it may seem a little hopeless. But there are things you can do to protect yourself and your unborn child from unhealthy air.

  • Check the Air Quality
    Even if you aren’t pregnant, checking the air quality daily is a good idea. An air quality monitor can help identify what is floating in the air you’re breathing. There’s also an app you can download on your smartphone to make it even easier. You can find out every day how clean or polluted the outdoor is, what kind of effects it can have on your health and ways to protect yourself.
  • Stay Inside
    If the air quality in your area is bad, stay inside as much as possible that particular day to avoid exposure. Exercise indoors during days when the pollution level is high.
  • Avoid Smoke
    If you are pregnant and you smoke cigarettes, it’s important to quit for the health of your baby and yourself. If you live with someone who smokes, encourage them to smoke outside and away from you to protect yourself and your unborn child from secondhand smoke.
  • Invest in Air Purifier
    You may not be able to control the air outside, but you can do something about the air inside your home. Investing in an air purifier is beneficial for your pregnancy and beyond. Air purifiers pull the contaminants out of the air, capture them and send purer, cleaner air back out.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind when looking for an air purifier. Know the square footage of the area where you plan to put the air purifier. They are designed to cover a particular amount of space, so if your room is bigger than the coverage area, the unit won’t work as well as it needs to.

It’s also important to buy one that works with a HEPA filter. HEPA filters are the most effective air purifier technology on the market. They pull up to 99.99 percent of airborne irritants out of the air – sending much cleaner air back out. And breathing cleaner air at home means a healthier baby and a healthier you.


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