The Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists ([RANZCOG], 2021) has released a four-page pamphlet detailing the adverse effects greenhouse gases, such as carbon monoxide, have on pregnant people. People living in built-up areas or near highways are most at-risk, given the high volume of fumes released by passing traffic. Bushfires and cigarette smoke have also been listed as contributing factors to pure air quality.
The report highlights how the particles given off do not have a direct, immediate effect on the person inhaling them but can rather induce ‘low grade immune and stress responses in the body’, prompting an increase in blood glucose and inflammation, can affect your heart rhythm as well as the function of blood vessels (RANZCOG, 2021).
What this means for pregnant people and people trying to conceive, especially those who live in high air-polluted areas, is an increased risk of developing more severe illnesses such as cancer in the long run. Putting it into perspective, spending a couple of hours or days in an area that has a high concentration of greenhouse gas can cause headaches and irritate your eyes, nose and throat. Spend a couple of years in these conditions and it is possible heart and lung disease, as well as diabetes and cancer will form. That is how severe it is.
When it comes to pregnancy, people are considered to be more vulnerable due to the changes their bodies undergo during this time. This further extends to fetuses, newborns and young children. ‘Unborn babies and children in their first years of life can be more vulnerable to air pollution because their organ systems like their heart, lungs and brain are all still developing. Air pollution is one of very many factors that can influence developmental processes’ (RANZCOG, 2021).
Although air pollution is all around us and sometimes it is difficult to try and avoid it as it is dependent on one's personal circumstances, there are several ways to improve the air you breathe. It is important to avoid indoor smoking, walk or cycle away from the main roads if possible, wear face masks outdoors (speak to a midwife first if you are pregnant) and keep your home well-ventilated. Making small changes such as these can significantly reduce the risk of developing more severe illnesses down the line.