Exposure to high levels of air pollution in pregnancy may increase the risk of having a preterm baby, new research says.
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Can pollution cause your baby to be born prematurely?

According to a new study, exposure to high levels of air pollution in pregnancy may increase your risk of having a preterm baby. Researchers examined birth records in Ohio between 2007 to 2010, analyzing nearly 225,000 single live births including more than 19,000 premature births. They then correlated the data with average daily levels of fine particulate matter recorded by 57 air monitoring stations across the state.

They found a 19 percent higher risk of women giving birth prematurely if they were exposed to fine particle air pollution during pregnancy, with premature birth risk highest among those mothers who were exposed in the third trimester (from 28 through 40 weeks).

"Although the risk increase is modest, the potential impact is robust, as all pregnant women are potentially at risk," study author Dr. Emily DeFranco, a physician-researcher at the Center for Prevention of Preterm Birth of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, said in a statement.

The type of air pollution examined for the study is composed of small particles from car exhaust or burning wood, coal, and other fossil fuels, which can be inhaled deep into the lungs. The study showed that the frequency of high exposure to this type of fine particulate matter was greater among preterm births than among full-term births. And while about 11 percent of the expectant mothers experienced high exposure to fine particles in all three trimesters, third trimester exposure posed the highest premature birth risk.

"We estimate that decreasing the amount of particulate matter in the air below the EPA's standard threshold could decrease preterm birth in women exposed to high levels of small particulates by about 17 percent," DeFranco said. "Which corresponds to a 2.22 percent decrease in the preterm birth rate in the population as a whole."

The findings were published online recently in the journal Environmental Health.

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and a mom. Check out her website holleeactmanbecker.com for more, and follow her on Twitter at @holleewoodworld.