Photo by: Pixabay User Bess Hamiti.

During pregnancy, exposure to certain chemical pollutants can create major health problems for both mother and fetus.

 

Why it matters: Multiple studies from Harvard Chan School have explored how environmental pollutants affect developing fetuses. In some cases, researchers found that exposure to those chemicals was connected to lifelong health issues. In other cases, exposure led to miscarriages or difficulty conceiving. The studies looked at a range of environmental effects:

Flame Retardant:

  • On average, women with higher exposure to organophosphate flame retardants—used in polyurethane foam for furniture, baby products, and gym mats—had a 10% lower chance of successful fertilization and 31% lower chance of implantation of the embryo.
  • The women also had a 41% decrease in clinical pregnancy (fetal heartbeat confirmed by ultrasound) and a 38% decrease in live births.

Fine Particulates:

  • Particulate matter is created by a mixture of fossil fuel combustion in traffic, power plants, and other sources of pollution that can be inhaled and cause serious health effects.
  • One study showed that children exposed to high levels of particulates in late pregnancy were 61% more likely to have high blood pressure compared to other kids. Exposure to those pollutants in early childhood was also associated with executive function and behavioral problems.
  • Another study showed that women undergoing in-vitro fertilization (IVF) had lower odds of a successful transplantation if exposed to pollutants from cars and trucks.

Phthalates:

  • Pthalates are synthetic chemicals used in a wide range of products: from vinyl flooring to food packaging to medical tubing to cosmetics.
  • Women with high concentrations of a type of phthalate called di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP, were 60% more likely to lose a pregnancy prior to 20 weeks than women with the low concentrations.
  • Another study showed that women with high levels a phthalate called monoethyl phthalate (MEP), had an increased risk of excessive weight gain and gestational diabetes.

Ambient Temperature:

  • Researchers studied more than 60,000 cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). In summer, they found, temperatures that were 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average were associated with an 8.6 % increase in SIDS.
  • In winter, that same temperature difference was linked to a 3.1 % decrease in SIDS. Summer risks were greater among black infants than white infants, and greater overall in infants 3-11 months old.

Resources:

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Dr. Aaron Bernstein

Aaron Bernstein MD, MPH

Aaron examines the human health effects of global environmental changes with the aim of promoting a deeper understanding of these subjects among students, educators, policy makers, and the public.

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