Is PM2.5 dangerous for pregnant women?

Air pollution poses risk for the mother and baby

Research shows that exposure to air pollution increases a pregnant woman’s risk of high blood pressure and gestational diabetes, while her baby is at risk of low birth weight and premature birth. All these health problems can have serious affects on a baby’s health, especially if they are born prematurely.

Pregnant women breathe in more air

So why are pregnant women at higher risk? Pregnant women breathe at a faster rate and their hearts work harder to make sure the foetus is getting enough oxygen. This means pregnant women breathe in more air. The more we breathe in polluted air, the higher the health risk.

Air pollution causes problem in the placenta

Some pollutants like heavy metals, particulate matter (PM) and even pesticides can damage the blood supply to the placenta. This causes problems with how the placenta develops and functions and ultimately effects the growth of the fetus. Because these pollutants enter the foetus’ bloodstream, they can lead to physical disabilities, neurological damage, and intellectual disabilities.

PM2.5 causes premature birth

The smallest type of PM, known as PM2.5, is among the most dangerous pollutants for pregnant women. Research indicates that premature birth is often caused by PM2.5. In 2010, data from 183 countries showed that at least 18% of premature births were associated with high levels of PM2.5 pollution. A 2019 study in the US also identified higher rates of premature birth among pregnant women exposed to PM2.5 from wildfire smoke during their second trimester. Even small increases in PM2.5 dramatically increase the risk of premature birth by as much as 13% with every 1 microgram/m3 increase in PM2.5.

PM2.5 causes low birth weight

PM2.5 also causes low birth weight among babies. Low birth weight is a key indicator of a baby’s immediate health and a determinant of their future health. Low birthweight babies are more likely to become seriously ill or even die during infancy. They also have a higher risk of developmental problems and illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The 2019 study mentioned above found a higher risk of low birth weight if their mothers were exposed to PM2.5 from wildfire smoke during their first trimester of pregnancy. A 2015 European study showed that exposure to PM2.5 containing traffic-related particles was particularly associated with low birth weight.

If possible, pregnant women should stay inside on high pollution days. Houses should be well-sealed (no gaps around windows and doors, for example) and air filtration products can be used to help improve air quality.

PM2.5 isn’t just dangerous for pregnant women. It is also dangerous for children and the elderly, plus it has a negative impact on our skin and can affect us more if we exercise outside.


References

Abdo, Mona, Isabella Ward, Katelyn O’Dell, Bonne Ford, Jeffrey R. Pierce, Emily V. Fischer, and James L. Crooks. 2019. ‘Impact of wildfire smoke on adverse pregnancy outcomes in Colorado, 2007-2015’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 16(19):3720. https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/16/19/3720

Malley et al. 2017. ‘Preterm birth associated with maternal fine particulate matter exposure: A global, regional and national assessment’, Environment International 101:173-182. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412016305992

Pedersen M et al. 2016. ‘Elemental constituents of particulate matter and newborn’s size in eight European cohorts’, Environmental Health Perspectives 124(1):141-150. https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp.1409546