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Effects of Breathing Dirty Air During Early Pregnancy

It is easy to avoid alcohol, smoking and sea food while pregnant, but what about the polluted air that expecting mothers breathe today? Research has long proven that air pollution has extreme adverse affects on pregnancy. It not only impacts the mother negatively, but also has unhealthy effects on the baby. To know more about the effects of breathing dirty air during early pregnancy, go through the following article.

Air Pollution

Pollution in the air is caused by nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, building emissions, vehicle exhaust, second-hand smoke, chemicals and dust. Air pollution is unhealthy for all living creatures, but its negative impact is most severe on babies, children, pregnant women, seniors and individuals with respiratory problems. Common symptoms of prolonged air pollution exposure wheezing, coughing, chronic fatigue, sinus and eye irritation, heart and lung damage, breathlessness, decreased lung capacity, advanced respiratory diseases like asthma, emphysema, bronchitis and cancer.

 Effects of Breathing Dirty Air During Early Pregnancy

Effects Of Breathing Dirty Air During Early Pregnancy

It has been proven that polluted air has some of the following dangerous effects on pregnant women and their babies such as:

Low Birth Weight

The ideal pregnancy delivers babies weighing 2.5 kg to 4 kg at 38 to 40 weeks. Babies weighing less than 2 kg are considered to have low birth weight. There are a variety of reasons because of which low birth weight happens, but exposure to air pollution during pregnancy is believed to be a prime cause of this complication. However, it is still not known that during which week, month or trimester of pregnancy is most vulnerable to the effects of air pollution.

Preterm Birth

Studies have shown that nearly 3 million babies are born prematurely every year because of air pollution. This implies that 18% of all annual preterm births are linked to exposure to particulate matter pollution. Babies born before term face a significant chance of developing neurological disorders and permanent physical disabilities. While many reasons can trigger premature birth, air pollution or breathing dirty air is one which should be specifically avoided.


Pregnant women who get exposed to high particulate matter pollution, especially in the third trimester, are twice likely to deliver a baby affected with autism. This is the case especially with pregnant women living near a highway where particulate matter is highest.


Breathing dirty air during pregnancy aggravates asthma. Asthma is harmful for pregnant women as it can cause preeclampsia, which is a condition that raises blood pressure and reduces liver and kidney functioning. When asthma is managed properly, the mother and baby remain fine. But if asthma is not treated, it causes the baby to suffer from lack of oxygen, which in turn triggers complications like poor growth, low birth weight and premature birth. Further, exposure to air pollution during pregnancy can also increase the child’s chances of developing asthma later in life.

Fertility Problems

People planning to have a baby should be careful about the kind of air they breathe since studies have proven that air pollution lowers the fertility rates in both men and women. Air pollution is also linked to miscarriages.

Ways To Protect Pregnant Women Against The Risks of Breathing Dirty Air

Although it is impossible for pregnant women to avoid every potential threat to their health and that of the baby, they can still greatly decrease their exposure to dirty air by simply:

Reading the Air Quality Index (AQI): About 92% of the world’s population lives in areas where air quality is unsafe for breathing. Even when the air looks clear, it can be dirty and contaminated. So, everyone must make it their habit to look up for their zip code’s air quality index report every day. By doing this, people can know about particulate pollution levels in the air around them and whether the level is alarming or not for women in early pregnancy.

Getting an Air Purifier: Outdoor air pollution is not the only thing one should be worried about in pregnancy. Even the indoor air can be extremely polluted and dirty. This problem of dirty indoor air can be solved simply by using air purifier at home. These devices remove all pollutants, allergens, smoke, germs and mold from the indoors making the home environment fresh and healthy to breathe in for pregnant women.

Cleaning the Indoor Air: Heavy amount of contaminants are introduced in the household air while cooking, using paints or hair sprays or when having a fire and make the air dirty. To keep their home air clean and healthy for women who are in early pregnancy, one should try to cook with the vents open, check regularly for molds and use natural household cleaner.

Staying Indoors: Moms-to-be share everything with their babies. Whatever pregnant women eat, drink, breathe or touch impacts their fetus. Skin is the largest organ of the body which absorbs 60 to 100% of whatever it comes in contact with. Even when wearing a gas mask, the skin gets affected by outdoor air pollution like particulate matter. Thus, it is highly advisable for pregnant women to stay indoors to keep the ill effects of air pollution away from themselves and their babies.

Getting Air-Purifying Indoor Plants: Plants are natural air filters. Certain kinds of snake and spider plants eliminate volatile organic compounds from the air and replace carbon dioxide with clean and fresh oxygen. By placing a plant at every 100 sq ft in their home, pregnant women and their babies can breathe healthier and cleaner air.


Pregnant women can stay safe and keep their babies protected by simply using the above mentioned tips. While a long list of things can influence the health of an expecting mother and her baby, breathing dirty air is something which should be avoided to the maximum.


  1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2021). Air Quality Index (AQI) Basics. https://www.airnow.gov/aqi/aqi-basics/
  2. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2021). Air Cleaners, HVAC Filters, and Coronavirus (COVID-19). https://www.epa.gov/coronavirus/air-cleaners-hvac-filters-and-coronavirus-covid-19
  3. Seow, W. J., et al. (2014). Indoor volatile organic compounds and chemical sensitivity. Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 14(5), 383-389. doi:10.1097/ACI.0000000000000097
  4. NASA. (1989). Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement. https://ntrs.nasa.gov/api/citations/19930073077/downloads/19930073077.pdf
  5. American Pregnancy Association. (n.d.). Pregnancy Nutrition. https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/pregnancy-nutrition/

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 26, 2023

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