High levels of air pollution can have an adverse effect in pregnancy. In a city like Delhi – which is amongst the most polluted cities of the world – the high levels of pollutants in the air are a grave concern.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), poor air quality is directly linked with risks of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases.
For a pregnant woman and her baby, exposure to air pollution can lead to long-term consequences. Recent studies have reported that exposure to high levels of air pollution could adversely affect brain development and IQ levels in children.
The State of Delhi’s Air Pollution
All of us in Delhi are guaranteed to come across one or all of these pollutants:
- Vehicular emissions
- Smoke from trash burning
- Smoke from crop burning, if we live on the city’s outskirts
- Emissions from power plants fueled by coal and gas
If the cause of pollution was limited to any one of these factors, perhaps we wouldn’t be in such a mess. But a quick reality check is sobering.
All of these pollutants contribute to forming Particulate Matter (PM 2.5 and PM 10), a substance that can cause significant harm to our bodies. PM 2.5 is especially harmful because it can get lodged deep in our lungs and lead to their deterioration over time.
Particulate matter can also affect brain function and the developing baby.
Effects of Air Pollution on Pregnancy
The effects of extreme air pollution on a pregnant mom are closely intertwined with its effects on her baby, and several experts are in agreement with the findings of various studies. Some of the more significant findings look like this:
1. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that “prenatal exposure to pollutants can increase the risk of preterm delivery and low birth weight.”
In fact, a study revealed that when Beijing halted all activities contributing to air pollution during the 2008 Olympics, women in their final trimesters delivered heavier babies during this time. The study suggests a clear correlation between decreased air pollution levels and healthier babies.
2. A study conducted at the University of British Columbia and published in the European Respiratory Journal found that perinatal exposure to air pollution can increase the odds of asthma in children 0-5 years of age.
3. A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health revealed a connection between exposure to high levels of pollution during pregnancy and autism.
4. Researchers at Columbia University found a correlation between exposure to air pollution during pregnancy and the development of behavioural issues like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), etc.
5. In severe cases, exposure to toxic air can also lead to stillbirths or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
3 ways to protect yourself from air pollution
The news is grim and city-wide changes will take time to implement. The truth is that we’re surrounded by air pollution even when we’re inside our homes because particulate matter is everywhere.
In fact, we’re not even protected inside our homes because there is usually no difference between indoor and outdoor PM levels.
In an ideal world, women would be able to move to a healthier, greener space for the duration of their pregnancies. While some experts do recommend moving, it’s not the friendliest option.
But a few simple changes can make a positive difference in the quality of our lives.
Skip the early morning walk
Unless you live near a park located away from the main roads, you should reschedule your early morning walks. The air quality in Delhi is the worst at early morning and evening, which means outdoor activity should be restricted. If possible, try and walk around Noon.
Wear a Mask
In a city like Delhi, wearing a mask is an easier step to take than waiting for air pollution levels to come down. And masks are usually effective at filtering pollutants out of the air we breathe. Invest in an N99 or N95 mask and make sure it fits snugly around your face.
Invest in an air purifier
Certified HEPA air filters have a nearly 100% efficiency rate in capturing air pollutants but they can require a family discussion and some monetary investment. If you’re able to expand your reach, consider investing in an air purifier to make your home safer.
Sometimes, change can begin with just keeping yourself educated about the fluctuation of air quality levels and planning your life accordingly. Websites like AQICN.org and DelhiAir.org are good go-to resources for checking the Air Quality Index (AQI) in and around Delhi.
Let us know if you’ve struggled with air pollution levels during your pregnancy and how you were able to manage a healthy lifestyle.