According to the American Lung Association, common outdoor air pollutants include ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide. Toxic air pollutants can come from burning fuels, vehicle exhaust, building emissions and other sources. However, most people spend 90% of their time indoors.
With recent research showing that air pollution can significantly impact mothers and babies, pregnancy is a good time to consider your home’s heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) system. Humidifiers and air purifiers can help with indoor air quality, but if the source of your air, your HVAC system, isn’t clean, those additional measures won’t matter.
No matter how you choose to heat and cool your home, one thing is certain: clean air is best for everyone, and especially if your home is home to a pregnant mother or newborn.
Studies have found links to adverse health outcomes because of poor air quality. Some affect women before or during pregnancy, while others appear in babies or even older children.
Multiple studies have observed the effects of air pollution on birth weight. One study conducted in Los Angeles investigated obstetric records of births by non-smoking women. Mothers living in more polluted areas gave birth to babies who weighed, on average, 314 grams, or 0.69 pounds, less than infants who were born to women residing in less polluted areas.
Another study from China observed women who were pregnant during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a two-month period when the city was required to lower emissions and improve air quality. The study revealed mothers who were eight months pregnant during the Olympics gave birth to babies who were 0.8 ounces heavier, in contrast to women who delivered during the same calendar months in previous years.
Babies born before the 37th week of gestation are considered preterm and are at risk for neurological disorders and permanent physical disabilities, as well as for breathing difficulties, cardiac problems, an inability to maintain body temperature, an immature digestive system and retinopathy. While premature birth can happen to anyone for many reasons, air pollution is one possible reason you should try to avoid.
Several studies have found links between air pollution and preterm birth. One by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) at the University of York revealed that “in 2010, about 2.7 million preterm births globally — or 18% of all preterm births — were associated with outdoor exposure to fine particulate matter.” A Swedish study published in 2013 showed a correlation between first-trimester ozone exposure and the incidence of preterm birth, while a National Institutes of Health study suggested air pollution exposure during a second pregnancy may increase the chances of preterm birth.
For pregnant women who have asthma, as long as it is well controlled, the condition poses no significant risk to the mother or the unborn baby. Uncontrolled asthma during pregnancy, however, can lead to high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia or premature delivery. No matter how well-controlled a person’s asthma, air pollution can worsen asthma symptoms.
In addition, recent research has shown air pollution exposure during pregnancy may increase the likelihood of the baby developing asthma later in life. A 2016 study looked at the role of air pollution from traffic sources in urban areas. Researchers discovered that “children whose mothers lived close to highways during pregnancy had a 25% increased relative risk of developing asthma before the age of five.”
By maintaining your HVAC system, you can find reassurance by avoiding costly breakdowns and repairs. The last thing you want during an already uncomfortable pregnancy is a home that’s too hot or too cold. Having a well-kept HVAC system ensures the air you breathe is clean, giving your baby a greater chance of protection from the risks of poor air quality.
Breathing clean air, thanks to a maintained HVAC system, is just as essential as the healthy food and hydrating beverages you put into your body during pregnancy. The source of your home’s air is your HVAC system, and it’s important to understand its condition, both on the interior and the exterior, during pregnancy and when welcoming your new baby into the home.