'Scary' new evidence suggests Utah’s bad air may be harmful to babies in utero

'Scary' new evidence suggests Utah’s bad air may be harmful to babies in utero (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) - Multiple studies point to a connection between bad air days and lifelong health problems for babies conceived and or born during periods of pollution.

Doctors for years have told us to avoid bad air especially if you have asthma, but now all women in Utah may need to think about changing their habits during their childbearing years.

Research from around the world is stacking up pin-pointing pollution-related issues that can alter the long-term health of their babies.

Expectant moms have been asked to put down cigarettes and alcohol, watch their diets and be careful of medications. The latest recommendation coming from OBGYN’s? Stay inside if the air isn’t clean.

Kimberly Thorne, a Utah mom, is expecting her first baby this spring. She's currently 30 weeks along, and like most moms-to-be didn’t give the forecast a second thought before conception. She conceived in the summer months when Utah doesn’t spend much time worrying about inversions – though bad airs days still exist.

New research suggests prospective parents should think about the air, like any other part of their pre-conception health care

Doctor Denitza Blagev, a Pulmonary & Critical Care physician, and director of the Schmidt Chest Clinic at Intermountain Medical Center believes there is a reason to pay attention to a myriad of new studies looking at pollution and pregnancy. “There has been an increasing recognition of the problem of air pollution for everyone and in particular for the very young and in utero exposure.”

Blagev explains that “even if you feel fine on a bad- air day the pollution is still bad for you.” Particulates in the air enter your lungs and ultimately your bloodstream causing inflammation which can make you feel sick. More importantly that inflammation can alter the growth of a baby in utero.

“Some effects are really well studied and we are really sure that the air pollution contributes to let’s say low birth weight - or increased mortality.”

Blagev explains that pollution can lead to lifelong problems including heart disease and obesity for infants born in a cloud of bad air.

“There are studies and even suggestion is autism associated with air pollution and I would say. There's fewer studies, they are smaller and not as certain.”

The latest research in the U.S suggests high levels of air pollution the month right before or after a woman gets pregnant increases the risk of birth defects by as much as 20%.

Recent research in Belgium points to a shorter lifespan for infants exposed to air pollution in utero during the 2nd trimester.

Both are significant findings- but Blagev says recreating these test results for confirmation is not easy or ethical. “You'd have to expose half the people to air pollution and not expose them and see who has a baby with a birth defect or autism and we can't ethically do that.”

That's why more and more OBGYN's and primary care physicians are talking to their patients about protecting both mom and baby just in case.

When Kimberly Thorne went to her doctor appointment during an inversion “she definitely suggested I wear a mask or stay inside.”

Indoor air is on average 50% less polluted than outdoor air and a good place to start when the inversion sets in. Doctor Blagev uses one at her home and mom to be Kimberly has one as well.

She started using one when she got sick and plans to buy another for her baby’s room.

Doctor Blagev is currently studying whether a room-size air purifier will help her adult patients dealing with lung disease. The results will take years but anecdotally she says her patients report seeing a difference when using a room size purifier and says it “might be worth trying.”

Doctor Blagev has a few suggestions for pregnant moms. She suggests checking your air filters to make sure they're doing their job and swapping them out on a regular basis. Wearing a mask, she says can help, but only for short periods of time. People with breathing problems must work harder to breathe through the masks making them not a viable option on a regular basis. Avoiding the outdoors during bad air days is your best bet- working out inside will also keep mom and baby healthy.

Kimberly teaches Zumba where she can get her work out in and worry less about the air. She plans to keep those workouts up through her pregnancy and once her baby arrives.

IMC’s 5 ways to improve the air quality inside your home

  • Don’t use a wood-burning fireplace or burn candles or incense
  • Don’t allow smoking inside the home or nearby - The particulate pollution associated with burning or smoking will likely overwhelm any cleaning from an indoor air filter.
  • Don’t spray volatile chemicals or cleaners inside your home
  • Do use an exhaust fan in the kitchen Do use HEPA air filters with a MERV rating of 13-16

To read more about some of the latest research on bad air and babies:

Air pollution around conception tied to birth defects - Women who breathe polluted air during the month right before or after they get pregnant may be more likely to have babies with birth defects, a U.S. recent study suggests.

Air pollution takes a double toll on babies' brains A common pollutant in vehicle exhaust, power plant emissions and cigarette smoke can shrink white matter in fetal brains and cause developmental damage during the toddler years, a new study suggests.

Scary New Evidence Suggests Air Pollution Can Harm Babies in Utero

Many newborns whose moms breathed dirty air showed an ominous biological sign, a new study found.

According to a study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics today, air pollution may even affect fetuses in the womb. In a first-of-its-kind study, European researchers found that newborns whose mothers had breathed dirty air during pregnancy were more likely to show biological markers associated with shorter lifespans than newborns whose mothers had not been exposed to air pollution.

People can sign up to be a part of new research on air filters

How to participate in Intermountain Medical Center’s study on improving indoor air quality

To qualify for this study, you must be a former smoker, over age 40, and have not previously used a HEPA air filter in your home. You can enroll in the study from now through February 2018, with some participants accepted through April of 2018.

NIH Indoor Air Quality and Respiratory Symptoms in Former Smokers

Intermountain Medical Center Air Quality Study

For more information, send an email to filter@imail.org or call 801-507-4606.

Do Indoor Air Filters Really Help You Breathe Easier?


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