Pregnancy warning on air pollution
17 October 2013 09:13
Pregnant women exposed to even low levels of air pollution are at an increased risk of giving birth at term to low birthweight babies, a study found
Air pollution in some countries could pose as big a danger to a baby's weight as a mother smoking during pregnancy, according to researchers.
The warning comes from Dr Marie Pedersen, of the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Spain.
She is the lead author of a new report which links exposure to even low levels of air pollution in pregnancy to the risk of low birthweight babies.
This suggests mothers-to-be should be careful when travelling to countries with higher air pollution rates, such as those in Asia, especially China, and take out appropriate
pregnancy travel insurance.
Exposure to air pollutants raised the risk of babies being born weighing under 2.5kg, and reduced their average head circumference, the report found.
This danger was even raised at pollution rates well below those considered unsafe by the European Union.
Low weight has also been linked to childhood asthma and adult lung dysfunction.
The circumference of a baby's head can impact upon brain development.
The research particularly focused on fine particulate matter, unseen by the human eye.
These carbon particles, or PM 2.5s, are about one-thirtieth the width of a human hair and come from sources such as traffic fumes and industrial air pollutants.
Scientists calculate that the risk of low birth weight rises by 18% for every rise of 5 micrograms per cubic metre in exposure to these particles during pregnancy.
Over a fifth of low birth weight deliveries could be prevented if levels of PM 2.5s were reduced to 10 micrograms per cubic metre, the study found.
The EU annual air quality limit is presently 25 micrograms per cubic metre.
The study collated information from 12 European countries and involved more than 74,000 women, who gave birth between 1994 and 2011.
Professor John Wright, director of research at the Bradford Institute for Health Research, urged policy makers to re-think pollution limits.
He said pregnant women can change their diets but they cannot change the air they breathe.
The results are published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine journal.