It is well known that air pollution is bad for our health. But what might be more surprising for most of us, is that bad air quality can also have consequences for an unborn child.

Different scientific publications and studies show that air pollution also affect the baby before his/her lungs ever take their first breath. Just like medicines, drugs and food, the pollution of the air breathed by the mother impacts health of the future baby. The unborn child is not protected against the pollutants, even if he/she is inside its mother’s body.

The consequences of air pollution on the unborn child seems to be really abundant. A new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that children born to mothers living in areas with high air pollution (especially high levels of fine particulate matter) have a increased risk of autism compared to children born to mothers living in areas with clean air or low air pollution. More precisly, the figure below shows that higher maternal exposure to PM2.5 during pregnancy (the quartile 1 represents mother with the lower exposition to air pollution and the quartile 4 represents mother with the higher exposition to air pollution) was associated with greater odds of a child having Autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Particulate matter is not the only pollutant responsible for health problems in babies. Ozone, the main pollutant at the origin of smog, is another pollutant well known to be harmful to fetal health. Over the last month and years, a lot of studies have shown a likely link between higher levels of maternal ozone exposure and poor health outcomes in infants: changes in lung structure and function, low birth weight and neuro abnormalities.

An older but very interesting study from the Department of Environmental Science, Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania, showed that there might be a relationship between maternal exposure to ambient formaldehyde and the risk of LBW, as well as between NO2 exposure and the risk of preterm birth.

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Credit: Evian