The kind of air we breathe in plays a big role in our physical and mental health. The effects of polluted air seem to increase every year affecting people of all ages, causing asthma, lung cancer, eye irritation and many more, and the saddest part of it all is its ability to affect children even before they are born.
Preterm pregnancy is a term used to describe early delivery; delivery that occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy when the normal gestation period is expected to be completed between the 38th and 42nd week of pregnancy and the exposure to polluted air increases the chances of this occurring.
When a pregnant woman is exposed to air pollution, the fetus is also exposed to all the adverse effects associated with polluted air and prolonged exposure will lead to preterm birth.
Over the years, there seem to have been a controversy as to the cause of preterm birth because the cause isn’t exactly known but air pollution has proven to be one of the risk factors. Close to 15 million babies are prematurely born around the globe every year with about 2.7 to 3.4 million preterm births across 183 countries associated with maternal fine particulate matter exposure according to researchers for the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), the University of Coloradoand the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
This air pollutant known as PM2.5 can be identified by the size of its particles (about 2.5 micrometers in diameter), is made up of tiny particles emitting from diesel, agricultural fires, and even indoor cooking, making air pollution even more difficult to avoid. These microscopic particles are tiny enough to go deep into your lungs and find a place to rest, exposing the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems to harm. Preterm birth and having an underweight infant are caused by this exposure.
Studies from Chris Malley, a researcher in the SEI’s York Centre, at the University of York and lead author on the study have shown that 18% of preterm births are caused by exposure to air pollution associated with 1 out of every 5 preterm births globally.
Maternal exposure to this fine particulate matter seems to be rampant in developing countries with Africa and South Asia bearing 60% of preterm births associated with air pollution globally. The exposure to air pollution in Asia, Africa with India and China inclusive, is way higher than exposure in the United States and this is why air pollution isn’t a major cause of preterm birth in the US.
Reducing the use of illegal drugs and tobacco, emotional and mental stress, and getting good education on maternal care can reduce the risk of preterm birth, but studies have shown that reducing air pollution plays a larger role in reducing preterm births drastically.
Researchers have come to the conclusion that maternal care is very important in preventing preterm birth and reducing maternal exposure to air pollution through emission reduction techniques will keep both the mother and child safe while putting other risk factors into consideration.