Monitoring air quality for the sake of the youngest

There are so many things to avoid when you’re pregnant.  Alcohol and smoke are some of the top offenders, causing birth defects, neurodevelopmental disorders, pre-term birth and low birth weight.  Did you know that air pollution is also dangerous to expecting mothers and their infants?   

Of course, air pollution includes tobacco smoke, but it’s more than that.  Here are some of the other types of air pollution that pregnant women and newborns may be exposed to (marchofdimes.org):

  • Asbestos, carbon monoxide, ozone and radon
  • Chemicals (including cleaning product fumes) and smoke from factories
  • Dust, mold and pollen
  • Fumes from paint and strong chemicals

These pollutants can impact the lung development of a fetus, making them more susceptible to diseases and conditions like asthma and obesity later in life.  Here are some specific ways babies are impacted:

  • Both babies whose mothers smoke while pregnant and babies who are exposed to secondhand smoke after birth are more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) than babies who are not exposed to cigarette smoke. (cdc.gov)
  • Pollution from vehicle traffic has many different toxins in it.  In particular, sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a big contributor to infant death according to a 2019 study in the UK and Wales.  The risk of infant death was 19% higher with increaseing SO2, compared with 7% higher with increased exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and 4% higher with increased exposure to PM10.   

There are several ways to protect yourself while pregnant, and your infant after they are born (UT Southwestern Medical Center).

  • Check outdoor air quality at airnow.gov and avoid being outside when the air quality is low.
  • Add an air purifier with HEPA filter to your home and/or office, because although inside is safer than outdoors on a low air quality day, pollution like PM2.5 infiltrates buildings that are not highly sealed.
  • Stay away from smoke, including second-hand, third-hand and wildfire smoke.  

Knowing what we do about indoor air pollution, here are some surprising sources of indoor air pollution:

  • Cooking: Fine particulates can cause your kitchen to have worse air quality than many cities when you are using the stove, oven and/or toaster!  Make sure to use a kitchen exhaust vent that exhausts outside while cooking, baking and for 30 minutes afterward while the stove cools down.
  • Cleaning: switch over to non-toxic products so that you’re not putting harmful VOCs and chemicals into the air and onto surfaces.  TotalClean is a multi-purpose wonder cleaner for non-toxic cleaning, odor and stain removal!
  • Candles:  Still incredibly popular, conventional candles can release a number of toxins including phthalates used in fragrance (an endocrine disruptor) and formaldehyde (a known carcinogen). (madesafe.org)  Try switching over to essential oil sprays and simmer pots to get the scent without the toxins (see our post).

Little lungs take time and clean air to develop properly, so it’s important to give them the best chance!

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