Pregnant women beware: Breathing in polluted air may harm your unborn child

Pregnant women beware: Breathing in polluted air may harm your unborn child
The number of vehicles on the road has increased about four-fold In in India and Pakistan since the early 2000s.

New study finds evidence that toxic particles can pass from a mother's lungs to her placenta, harming the baby. Read on to know the harmful effects of pollution on unborn babies.

Written by Paras Hemrajani |Updated : November 27, 2019 4:18 PM IST

Tired of coughing and wheezing because of Delhi's air pollution? It is definitely not healthy for any living creature. But, according to a new study, it can even have a severe impact on pregnant women and babies. This research from Queen Mary's University of London says that air pollution particles have been found in the placentas of five women living in London. According to the study, these particles were inhaled by the mothers from the polluted air in the environment. These particles then found their way to the placenta from the mothers' lungs, potentially damaging the foetus.

London is currently ranked 142 in cities with the worst air quality, while Delhi is at number 16. To study the effects of air pollution on a baby and mother, researchers studied 3,500 macrophages from five different placentas. Macrophages are cells that form part of the immune system and protect a baby from harmful bacteria and pollution particles. Out of the 3500 cells, 60 contained small black areas, which on further investigation were found to be carbon particles. Researchers say that this study proves that there is a need for stricter policies regarding pollution and cleaner air.


Polluted air, generally, contains toxins such as particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, vehicle exhaust, factory emissions, second-hand smoke, dust and chemicals. Prolonged exposure to these toxins has been linked to coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, eye irritation, respiratory diseases like bronchitis, asthma, and emphysema, chronic fatigue and cancer in children. According to UNICEF, more than 300 million children live in environments that contain toxic air. Pregnant women, unborn babies, children, those with respiratory problems and the elderly are at a higher risk of health complications.

Also Read

More News

Here, let us take a look at some of the health issues that occur in your unborn baby due to air pollution.

Low birth weight

The recommended weight of a baby after 38 weeks is six to nine pounds. Anything less than that is considered to be 'low birth weight'. There are plenty of reasons why this can happen. One cause is exposure to air pollution. According to a study, published in the BMC Public Health journal, in two months' time, when China was improving its air quality for the 2008 Olympics held in Beijing, it was seen that babies delivered that year, but after the event, were 22.6 grams heavier than other babies.

Pre-term birth

Pre-term birth means that the baby is delivered before 38 weeks of pregnancy. Children born before term have major risks of neurological disorders and physical abnormalities. One of the reasons for pre-term birth is air pollution. It can damage babies' lungs and, in order to reverse the damage, you may have to deliver early.


Air pollution is the biggest contributor to asthma. In pregnant women, asthma may lead to preeclampsia (elevated blood pressure and decreased function of the liver and kidneys). If left untreated, it can cause oxygen deprivation in the baby, leading to premature birth, low birth weight and slow organ development. Exposure to pollution particles in the womb increases the chances of having asthma later in life.


Air pollution is a man-made crisis. You can manage it by taking certain precautionary steps. Here are some things that may help in protecting you from exposure to air pollution and its effects.

Get an air purifier

If you can't control the air outside, the least you can do is control the air inside the house. Pregnant women spend most of their time inside the house. By getting an air purifier, you will help in removing toxins from kitchen smoke and germs from furniture molds.

Stay inside

Delhi pollution is worse during the winter season. You must remain inside the house as much as possible. Take up some exercises that you can perform inside the house.