Revealed: Babies have air pollution particles in their lungs while they’re still in the WOMB 

Pollutants from traffic fumes can pass through the mother's bloodstream within the first 12 weeks, across the placenta to the baby's developing organs.

Revealed: Babies Have Air Pollution Particles in Their Lungs While Still in the WOMB

  • Air pollution particles can reach babies in the womb, a landmark study suggests
  • Pollutants from traffic fumes can cross the placenta and enter the baby’s organs
  • Experts say findings are ‘concerning’ when organ development takes place in the uterus

Unborn babies have particles of air pollution in their developing lungs and other vital organs as early as the first trimester, a landmark study has found.

Pollutants from traffic fumes can pass through the mother’s bloodstream within the first 12 weeks, across the placenta to the baby’s developing organs.

Experts believe it could mean that pregnant women living in the most polluted parts of the country have a greater risk of stillbirth and babies born with health problems.

Scientists at the University of Aberdeen, UK, and Hasselt University, Belgium, studied air pollution nanoparticles, called black carbon – or soot particles – to determine whether they could reach the fetus.

For the first time, they discovered evidence that the pollutants crossed into the developing organs, including the liver, lungs and brain.

They found dangerous nanoparticles – from exhaust gases and fossil fuels – crossed the placenta into the fetus in the womb as early as three months into pregnancy.

The more air pollution the mothers were exposed to, the greater the level of black carbon nanoparticles found in the baby, according to the findings published in Lancet Planetary Health.

Pollutants from traffic fumes can pass through the mother’s bloodstream within the first 12 weeks, across the placenta to the baby’s developing organs.

Can pollution reach your baby in the womb?

Research shows that particles of pollution can reach the baby in the womb via the placenta.

The highest levels of particles were found in mothers who lived closest to busy roads during pregnancy.

Some small studies have shown an association between air pollution and pregnancy complications such as miscarriage, premature birth and low birth weight.

However, there are many things that increase the risk of these complications and these studies did not prove that air pollution was a direct cause.

More research is needed to better understand the impact of pollution on pregnancy.

All women are exposed to particles of pollution and it is impossible to avoid them completely.

Pregnant women are advised to try not to worry too much and focus on living a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

Source: Tommy’s

Professor Tim Nawrot, from the University of Aberdeen, said: ‘We know that exposure to air pollution during pregnancy and infancy is linked to stillbirth, preterm birth, low birth weight babies and impaired brain development, with effects that last a lifetime .

‘We show in this research that the number of black carbon particles that enters the mother is proportionally passed on to the placenta and to the baby.

‘This means that air quality regulations must recognize this transfer during pregnancy and act to protect the most sensitive stages of human development.’

Black carbon is a sooty black material released into the air from internal combustion engines, coal-fired power plants and other sources that burn fossil fuel.

It is a major component of particulate matter, an air pollutant linked to serious health problems, including heart disease, respiratory infections and lung cancer.

Previous research on babies found that exposure in the womb increased the risk of low birth weight and preterm birth.

Black carbon nanoparticles were found to enter the placenta, but there was no solid evidence that these particles then entered the fetus until now.

The findings also suggest that public health measures are urgently needed to minimize the exposure of pregnant mothers to air pollution.

Co-author Professor Paul Fowler said: ‘We were all concerned that if nanoparticles got into the foetus, they could directly affect their development in the womb.

‘What we show for the first time is that nanoparticles of black carbon air pollution not only enter the placenta of the first and second trimester, but also find their way into the organs of the developing fetus, including the liver and the lungs.

‘What is even more worrying is that these black carbon particles also end up in the developing human brain. This means that it is possible for these nanoparticles to directly interact with control systems within human fetal organs and cells.’



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