How air pollution impacts pregnancy

Pregnant women become more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution during the course of their trimester. The increased air volume inhaled per minute, greater oxygen consumption, and higher cardiac output during the course of pregnancy play vital roles in the greater susceptibility of pregnant women to the ramifications of air pollution.1 These factors accommodate contaminants that cross the placenta, in turn adversely affecting its health. 

A study of birth outcomes has found that women exposed to higher levels of air pollution during their first trimester are exposed to a higher risk of preeclampsia and high blood pressure (Talbott et al, 2013)2. The risk of preeclampsia has been found to increase by up to 12% (Gavin P et al, 2018)3 in pregnant women subject to high concentrations of traffic pollution. Exposure to high levels of air pollution also increases the risk of stillbirth and infant mortality. This is confirmed by a study conducted by The Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) at the University of York, which found that air pollution accounts for approximately 3 million premature births every year (University of York, 2010)4. Premature birth poses a number of risks to the baby including low birth weight (under 6 pounds), underdeveloped lungs, and other physical disabilities. Furthermore, a Harvard study (Harvard School of Public Health, 2014)5 found that there’s an increased probability of a child with autism being born to a mother who was exposed to hazardous pollutants during her last trimester. Among the array of these hazardous pollutants, greater concentrations of nitrogen dioxide has also been found to increase the risk of pregnancy loss by 16% (Lesier et al, 2019).6 

Although it is not possible to entirely circumvent the issue of air pollution, there are several measures women can take to protect themselves and their babies during the course of their pregnancy. Of utmost importance is making sure that air quality advice from health care providers and local health officials is adhered to. Intense outdoor exercises, that tend to make you breathe more rapidly, should also be avoided as these increase the risk of greater pollution inhalation. Women should also avoid going outside during very polluted times and steer clear of heavily congested areas during their pregnancy. These measures should be taken in addition to conventional methods, such as wearing masks in heavily polluted areas and taking stock of the air pollution levels in the vicinity before heading outside. 

1 Standford Children’s Health, ‘’The Lungs in Pregnancy’’, (accessed March 2022)

2 Talbott, O E, Lee, Pei-Chen, Roberts. Catov, ‘’First Trimester Exposure to Ambient Air Pollution, Pregnancy; Complications and Adverse Birth Outcomes in Allegheny County, PA’’, 2013;17(3):545–55.

3 Gavin P, Fatima H, Shand AW, Carol B, Angus C, Natasha N. ‘’Association between pre-eclampsia and locally derived traffic-related air pollution: a retrospective cohort study’’, J Epidemiol Community Health. 2013:147–52.

4 University of York, The Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), ‘’ Study links outdoor air pollution with millions of preterm births’’, February 2017,,exposure%20to%20fine%20particulate%20matter. (accessed 15 March 2022)

5 Harvard School of Public Health, ‘’Air pollution linked with increased risk of autism in children’’,,T.H.%20Chan%20School%20of%20Public (accessed 15 March 2022)

6C.L. Leiser, H.A. Hanson, K. Sawyer, J. Steenblik, R. AlDulaimi, T. Madsen, K. Gibbins, J.M. Hotaling, Y.O. Ibrahim, J.A. VanDerslice, M. Fuller, ‘’Acute effects of air pollutants on spontaneous pregnancy loss: a case-crossover study’’ Fertil. Steril., 111 (2019), pp. 341-347