Miscarriages, foetal growth & toxic pollutant in unborn baby: Pregnant women at higher risk with air pollution in Delhi-NCR

My mother is growing more worried of Delhi’s increasing air pollution and its possible effects on my unborn child. She keeps requesting me to come and stay in Gwalior until I deliver. But I am bound to attend my office. There’s still time for me to apply for maternity leave. I can’t leave the city (New Delhi) right now”, says a 35-year-old human resource executive, who is expecting her first child in the next seven months. Requesting anonymity, she further told The Quotes,“The prevailing air pollution in the city is not just going to affect me, but it will also affect my child.”

I use masks and try to stay inside closed rooms as much as possible, but still, at times, when I look at smog around, it increases my heartbeat,” she adds. A significant study published in Lancet Planetary Health last year stated that in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, air pollution may have contributed to as much as 29% of pregnancy losses from 2000 to 2016.

The exposure among mothers to ambient particulate matter (PM 2.5) was associated with pregnancy loss, which includes stillbirths and miscarriages,’ concludes the study. Meanwhile, a new study published in the medical journal, The Lancet Planetary Health shows more startling results as it confirms that toxic pollutants have been found in the developing lungs and other vital organs of unborn babies.

To understand the gravity of the situation and how air pollution can primarily affect the pregnant woman and her foetus, The Quotes spoke to Dr. Payal Chaudhary, Senior Consultant, Obstetrics and Gynaecologist at Madhukar Rainbow Children’s Hospital, in Malviya Nagar. Excerpts of the conversation.

The last few days have seen a drastic deterioration in Air Quality, with Air Quality Index (AQI) pointing towards an alarming situation in Delhi-NCR and nearby areas. So how do you see the effects of air pollution on pregnant women and foetus?

Air Pollution is becoming one of the most challenging problems for mankind. It has become a source of dozens of health issues, and that too in every age and walk of life. A lot of research is going at several levels, which indicates the severe effects of air pollution on pregnant women. Studies have shown that exposure to air pollution can lead to adverse pregnancy outcomes.

Pic credit: Screenshot of live data at https://www.iqair.com/ Time: 2:00 AM IST / 04 Nov.

It is believed that the developing foetus is especially vulnerable to environmental toxins. It enhances the risks of spontaneous abortions, pre-term labour, and intrauterine growth restriction and might increase the risk of stillbirth when exposed in the third trimester. In addition, exposure to PM 2.5 and PM 10, as well as carbon monoxide and cooking smoke, are significant complications of pregnancy loss due to air pollution.

What are the possibilities of miscarriages due to air pollution?

Miscarriage, typically defined as the loss of the foetus prior to 20 weeks of Pregnancy, and stillbirth, typically defined as the death of the foetus after 20 weeks of Pregnancy, are both examples of Pregnancy Loss. Like magnetic fields, maternal smoking and ambient cigarette smoke affect spontaneous abortion and stillbirth, and air pollution with AQI readings very poor or hazardous for days can lead to severe effects on pregnant women.

How can air pollution lead to foetal growth?

In addition to drastic effects on neonatal morbidity and mortality, foetal growth restriction (FGR) can have grave health consequences. So, when neonates are born with growth restrictions or get exposed to air pollution regularly, it impacts the overall health of the growing child for times to come and can become a factor in acquiring diseases in adulthood.

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Exposure to environmental pollution needs to be prevented for pregnant mothers. It can be done with a multipronged approach. Pregnant women should avoid exposing themselves to the open air when AQI is very poor or below. Using an N 95 mask can help. Indoor air should be kept clean these days by keeping the doors and windows closed.

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Also, investing in some indoor air-purifying plants and an air purifier could go a long way in keeping indoor air clean. Even simple measures like using chimneys while cooking and using cooking gas instead of kerosene or wood can keep indoor pollution low. Long-term measures require constant efforts from governments and individuals, like replacing petrochemicals with electric energy for vehicles, installing smog towers and reducing garbage and farm fires or stubble burning.

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