We all know to avoid first, second and even third-hand smoke when we're pregnant, but according to a new study conducted at the University of Florida, air pollution may be even more harmful to pregnant women than smoking cigarettes. And guess what is one of the main pollutants to worry about? Car exhaust!
Carbon monoxide emitted from cars and sulphur dioxide from power plants can cause pregnant women to have high blood pressure, which in turn can cause pre-term delivery and other pregnancy complications. About 10 percent of pregnant women end up with high blood pressure (also known as hypertension). Women with hypertension are at higher risk for placental abruption (when the placenta separates from the uterine wall), which is dangerous for both mom and baby because it causes severe bleeding. This usually occurs after week 20. One fourth of women who have high blood pressure develop preeclampsia, usually after about 28 weeks.
The study's sample looked at 22,000 women who gave birth in Jacksonville, Florida, between 2004 and 2005, and examined the environmental data from their communities. Of the sample, nearly 5 percent developed a hypertensive disorder. It is thought to be due to exposure of air pollutants throughout the first and second trimesters. At this point, scientists can't determine conclusively whether exposure early in the pregnancy or late in the pregnancy was more likely to increase a women's risk of developing high blood pressure, but exposure during pregnancy definitely made a difference in women's high blood pressure rates.
In another study about the effects of high blood pressure by the University of Helsinki, researchers found that kids born to mothers with high blood pressure scored an average of 4.36 points lower on IQ tests than those whose moms did not have hypertension while pregnant. According to Science Net Links, pollution can aggravate asthma and contribute to lung cancer. It can also lead to heart disease and behavioral problems in kids, and contributes to two million deaths a year.
So, while you may not be able to up and move to a less-polluted city, you can let your local government know that air pollution is an important issue for them to concentrate on—not just for the health of you and other pregnant women, but for everyone in the community.
TELL US: Are you worried about the effects of air pollution on your pregnancy? What measures will you take to avoid pollution?
Image of a polluted Earth courtesy of Shutterstock.