The Effect of Air Pollution on Fetal Development


By: Kandyce Dunlap

Air pollution is known to cause harm in adults, children and older adults. Health outcomes such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic lower respiratory diseases, heart disease and diabetes are further compounded by air pollution (American Lung Association, 2018). More recently, research has suggested that the effects of air pollution can cross the mother-fetus blood barrier to hinder the development of unborn children and cause adverse pregnancy outcomes such as preterm birth, stillbirth, low birth weight and birth defects (Ha et al., 2018).

Read the Research Review

Effect on fetuses and infants

High concentrations of air pollutants such as particulate matter and nitrous oxides have been linked to lower birth weight, smaller head circumferences and smaller gestational weight in fetuses. Ozone, sulphur oxides, carbon monoxide and particulate matter have been linked to preterm birth, stillbirth and loss of pregnancy. Air pollution has also been linked to poor lung development and respiratory distress in newborns.

What can you do?

The most critical stages of pregnancy for exposure to air pollution are the second and third trimester, week 13 through the end of pregnancy. Pregnant women should check the air quality index (AQI) at AirNow and limit outside exposure on days that the AQI reads orange and above. Precautionary measures to reducing air pollution exposure on poor air quality days can include limiting outside activities during summer months between 2 – 7 p.m., when ground level ozone is higher, and ensuring that indoor air filters are changed every three months.

Want to learn more?

You can read the full research review on fetal development to learn more.


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