Newborns whose mothers were exposed to high levels of air pollution in the week before delivery could be up to 147% times more likely to be admitted to intensive care, research suggests.
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, USA, analysed data from over 223,000 births at 12 hospitals in the United States from 2002 to 2008.
They then linked records from over 27,000 intensive care admissions to data from the Community Multiscale Air Quality Modeling System, which estimates environmental pollution concentrations in the United States.
Researchers matched air quality data in the area where each birth occurred to the week before delivery, the day before delivery and the day of delivery. They then compared these time intervals to air quality data two weeks before delivery and two weeks after delivery to identify the risk of intensive care admission associated with pollution levels.
They found that exposure to high concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air was associated with a 147% increase in the risk of intensive care admission.
They also found that chances of intensive care admission increased significantly with exposures to traffic-related pollutants on the day before and the day of delivery, compared to the week before delivery: 4% and 3%, respectively, for an approximately 300 parts per million (ppm) increase in carbon monoxide; 13% and 9% for an approximately 26 ppm increase in nitrogen dioxide; and 6% and 3% an approximately 3 ppm increase in sulfur dioxide.
Researchers say they do not know why exposure to air pollution might increase the chances of intensive care admission but they believe that air pollution increases inflammation, leading to impaired blood vessel growth, particularly in the placenta, which supplies oxygen and nutrients to the developing fetus.
Previous studies have linked elevated levels of certain kinds of air pollutants to higher risks for gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, a blood pressure disorder of pregnancy.
Other studies have also shown that infants born to women exposed to high levels of air pollutants are at risk for preterm birth, of being small for their gestational age at birth and of growing more slowly than normal in the uterus.
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