Air pollution and pregnancy: Why it’s important to reduce your exposure



If you’re pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant have you ever wondered if air pollution might have an effect on your unborn baby?

Jade Elliott spoke with Virginia Homewood, an OB/Gyn with Intermountain Healthcare, on this episode of the Baby Your Baby Podcast to provide some important tips to help you reduce your exposure to air pollution if you’re pregnant.

Why can air pollution be harmful if you’re pregnant?

Studies have shown that air pollution can increase your risk for miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm birth and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. It may also lead to a slightly lower rate of fetal growth. High air pollution levels can have an effect even during the time when you conceive.

So, you may want to take that into consideration if you’re planning to get pregnant.

Why is the Wasatch Front prone to air pollution?

Salt Lake City and the nearby cities along the Wasatch Front are surrounded by mountains and have high elevations, and these factors can lead to more bad air days, especially in the winter when cold air becomes trapped in the valley and we experience temperature inversions, where it is warmer at high elevations in the mountains than at lower elevations in the valley.

Summer can be a bad time for air as well. Summer wildfires, fireworks and high temperatures all play a role in increasing the amount of summer air pollution. And of course, a big source of air pollution any time of year is automobile exhaust.

Five simple things you can do to avoid outdoor air pollution

1. Check your local daily air quality at air.utah.gov

2. Don’t exercise outside on high pollution days

3. Don’t exercise outside at peak traffic times like rush hour

4. Don’t let your car idle

5. Use the recirculation setting in your car, to reduce the amount of exhaust fumes you breathe.

Indoor air pollution can also be a problem

Many people don’t realize air pollution can occur indoors. Outdoor air pollution is a major contributor to indoor air pollution. But you can take steps to help reduce the amount of fine particulate pollution particles in your home.

Seven things you can do to avoid indoor air pollution

1. Make sure you change your furnace filter regularly

2. Use a portable indoor HEPA air filter in the room you use most

3. Use HEPA air filters with a MERV rating of 13-16

4. Do use an exhaust fan in the kitchen

5. Don’t use a wood burning fireplace or burn candles or incense

6. Don’t allow smoking inside the home or nearby

7. Don’t spray volatile chemicals or cleaners inside your home

Recommended air filters – understanding the rating system

A High-Efficiency Particulate Arrestance (HEPA) filter with a MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) rating of 13-16 is most effective at removing the smallest pollution particles. HEPA filters remove more than 99 percent of particulates. (These should not be confused with air purifiers that use UV light or electrostatic charges to kill viruses or bacteria).

HEPA filter MERV ratings range from 1 to 16. A low MERV rating (1 to 4) means the filter only traps large particles such as dust. A high MERV rating (13 to 16) means that particles less than 1 micron are removed, such as the PM2.5 particles in outdoor air pollution that cause poor health outcomes. However, HEPA filters do not remove radon or ozone, which can also be harmful to the lungs. For more information visit: https://www.nafahq.org/understanding-merv/.

An indoor air filter can help reduce the pollution particles in a room in your home. Kitchens and rooms with wood burning fireplaces can also be a major source of dirty air. Place it one of those areas or where you spend most of your time. You could move it to your bedroom at night.

How to improve overall air quality

It takes a whole community to improve air quality. We are all contributing to and affected by air pollution, whether we are young or old or have heart or lung disease or not. The solutions to better air quality must be addressed by all of us as a community. If we don’t take action, we will continue to see increased health costs and lower quality of life in our communities.

For more information visit intermountainhealthcare.org

The Baby Your Baby program provides many resources for all pregnant women and new moms in Utah. There is also expert advice from the Utah Department of Health and Intermountain Healthcare that air each week on KUTV 2News.


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