Tommy's PregnancyHub

First evidence showing pollution particles reaching babies inside the womb

New research has shown that it is possible for soot (pollution) particles to reach a developing fetus through the placenta.

This research, carried out by Nature Communications, is not the first study into the effect of pollution on the health of pregnant women.  However, it is the first to show soot particles from polluted air reaching a fetus through the placenta. The placenta is an organ that helps your baby grow and develop, passing oxygen, nutrients and antibodies from your blood supply to your baby.

Experts are hoping that this is the first step to better understanding the connection between high pollution levels and an increased risk of miscarriage, premature birth and low birth weight.

"Small particles, such as through smoking, can cause considerable disease related to the placenta and these findings of particles in the placenta are a concern.  Their possible effects on the baby and mother warrant further investigation."
Andrew Shennan, professor of obstetrics at King's College London.

There are measures that can be taken by women to help lessen the risk, but experts say that change needs to happen through governmental policy regarding pollution.

"Women shouldn't be too paranoid about walking down the street but they could be thinking about how they could reduce their exposure."
Prof Jonathan Grigg, a leading expert in the effects of air pollution on children, from Queen Mary University of London

The ‘measures’ mentioned here include ventilating houses through windows that are facing away from busy roads and choosing routes of travel with less traffic when walking or cycling.

How the study was carried out

Placentas from 5 pre-term and 23 full-term births were investigated in this study.  Black carbon particles were found through high-resolution imaging on the inside of the placentas studied. These are thought to have moved from the mother's lungs through to the placenta.

The highest levels of particles were found in the 10 mothers who lived closest to busy roads, and who had been exposed to highest levels of pollution during pregnancy. 

Our midwife says

“This news is worrying for pregnant women, or parents planning a pregnancy, especially those who live in busy towns or cities.  As discussed, some things can be done to reduce exposure to polluted air and minimise risk. Midwives also have access to Carbon Monoxide readers, so your levels can be checked during antenatal checks or triage visits. This is of course a larger political issue.  However, the more we raise awareness, the more likely it is that change will happen, improving the health outcomes for generations to come.”
Sophie, Tommy's Midwife

You can read more about the study here.