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Air pollution increases risk of pregnancy complications, study finds

Exposure to traffic-related pollutants can affect mothers’ and infants’ health

Pregnant woman with car in background
Photo (c) Tanaonte - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of California Los Angeles explored some of the risks that pregnant women face when exposed to air pollution.

According to their study conducted on mice, women who are exposed to air pollutants during pregnancy may have a higher risk of complications that affect their health and their babies’ health. 

“The cellular changes we have observed could provide the missing link between exposure to air pollutants and adverse pregnancy outcomes, thereby helping to focus development of preventive strategies for at-risk pregnancies,” said researcher Dr. Sherin Devaskar. 

Pollution may affect the placenta

The researchers divided female mice into two groups for the study: one group was nasally exposed to pollutants two months before conception and then throughout pregnancy; the second group was exposed to saline. The team analyzed tissue samples from both groups to understand what effect pollution could have on pregnant women and their babies. 

The study showed that the mice exposed to the pollution were affected on a cellular level and that the impact can affect health outcomes for mothers and infants.

As pollution enters the lungs, the immune system is activated in an unhealthy way that can ultimately affect the placenta. The researchers explained that this immune response can lead to a loss of vascular cells in the placenta, which could affect the food and nutrient supply going to the baby. It can also increase the risk for serious pregnancy complications, including preeclampsia and preterm birth. 

The researchers also observed that exposure to pollution during pregnancy was associated with inflammation in the lining of the uterus. 

While the researchers plan to do more work in this area to better understand the precise dynamics behind air pollution exposure and pregnancy risks, they say these findings highlight some specific ways that pollutants can affect pregnant women and their babies. 

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