How air and noise pollution can affect your unborn baby’s health

People might not be able to control the levels of air and noise pollution around them. But simple strategies can limit the exposure.
A happy pregnant woman
What's the best pregnancy gap to maintain? Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Dr Rujul Jhaveri Published: 22 May 2022, 13:30 pm IST
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Unborn babies get all their oxygen and nutrition from the mother. All that the mother eats, feels, inhales, or comes in contact with, can affect the unborn baby. In such circumstances, we can only imagine the harmful effects of pollution, whether air, water, or noise, on the fetus. However, with the correct advice and necessary precautions, these effects can be decreased to the least minimum.

How do unborn babies get affected by air pollution?

The fetus receives oxygen via the placenta from the mother. Hence, exposure to air pollution, can lead to serious adverse effects like higher infant mortality, lower birth weight, impaired lung development, increased later respiratory morbidity, and early alterations in immune development. It is also linked to longer-term breathing issues, such as asthma and allergies.

Also, there is evidence of the adverse impact of prenatal exposure to air pollution on maternal health as well. In the first trimester, if there is an exposure to pollution, there is an increased risk of preeclampsia and high blood pressure in mothers. These complications can harm the mother and the unborn baby adversely and can necessitate an early premature delivery.

People might not be able to control the levels of pollution around their home or workplace. However, simple strategies to protect — such as remaining indoors as much as possible, wearing a covering on the face when outdoors, and using quality air filters — may reduce the harmful effects of air pollution on pregnancy.

Safeguard your fetus and yourself from air pollution. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Also, read: Heat wave and pollution: Here’s how to deal with this double trouble

Steps for protection against air pollution:

  1. Do not smoke inside a close space or allow anyone else to do so. Ask people who smoke to change their clothes before entering the house.
  2. Avoid going outside too much in polluted areas. Most local weather stations provide reports on daily air quality, specifically in polluted regions.
  3. Wear a face covering when exposure to pollution is unavoidable or when using cleaning products or paint.
  4. Install a high efficiency particulate air filter to reduce indoor air pollution.
  5. Evacuate to a safer area when air quality is very dangerous, such as during a wildfire.
  6. Talk to a medical professional about other tips to reduce the overall risk of pregnancy complications.

How do unborn babies get affected by noise pollution?

Noise pollution (including occupational and ambient noise) can affect both the maternal and the fetal/neonatal outcomes. Exposure to noise may result in the rise in stress and sleep disturbance. Stress has been hypothesized to affect fetal growth through the endocrine system by causing hormonal imbalance. Sleep disturbance, on the other hand, is known to be associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes.

While it can be hard to avoid noise at work, one should try to move as far away from the noise as possible or ask your employer if you can work in a quieter job during pregnancy. Also, talk to your doctor about potential hazards at work. Make sure to specify that you are exposed to loud noise.

pregnancy prevention
You need to combat air and noise pollution during pregnancy. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

Steps to minimize the impact of noise pollution:

  1. Ear plugs or earmuffs can protect your hearing and help prevent sleep disturbances. However, it may not completely protect the baby’s hearing. Hence, it is best to stay away from loud noise as much as possible.
  2. Noises that you can feel as a rumble or vibration are very low frequency sounds. These sounds travel through your body easily and may cause changes that could affect your developing baby. Hence, such sounds should be avoided.
  3. Sudden loud noises (impact or impulse noise) that are loud enough for you to need hearing protection or that startle you should be avoided during pregnancy.
  4. Do not lean up against or put your body in contact with a source of noise or vibration.

In terms of community health practices, the effects of ambient air pollution and noise on reproductive outcomes may be small, when compared to individual pregnancies. However, due to the widespread nature of the exposure, there are possible long-term health effects, like low birth weight or preterm birth.

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About the Author

Dr Rujul Jhaveri is a consultant- obstetrics and gynaecology at SRCC Hospital, managed by Narayana Hospital, Mumbai. She completed her M.B.B.S from Seth G. S. Medical College, Mumbai. After which she pursued her Masters in obstetrics/gynaecology (M.S. OBGY) from Seth GS Medical College and KEM Hospital. She did a certificate course in Fetal Ultrasound Program by the Fetal and Gynae Imaging (FGI) - Bangalore Fetal Medicine Centre (BFMC). She has a vast clinical experience spanning across 10 years of training and practice, having conducted more than 1000 deliveries. ...Read More

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