Human activities that lead to climate change also affect our health. These health risks are greater for pregnant people and babies. Climate change affects children even before they are born.
In this article we would be looking for Extreme Heat and Air Pollution: Health Effects on Babies and Pregnant People.
Breathing polluted air makes people sick and shortens lifespans. Burning fossil fuel (coal, oil and gas) pollutes the air and increases the temperature. Heat makes air pollution worse.
If you are pregnant, here are ways that can help avoid these problems for yourself and your baby.
How does air pollution lead to climate change?
Air pollution comes from burning fossil fuels from driving, industry, farming and wildfires. When oil and gas are burned, they release gases into the air called greenhouse gases. The gases combine with the earth’s naturally occurring greenhouse gases and form a thick blanket around the earth. The blanket has gotten thicker. This has caused the earth’s temperature to rise over the past century.
The past decade was the hottest on record. The next decade will be even hotter unless we reduce fossil fuel use. Some regions will have an entire month more of extreme heat days.
Some direct health risks to pregnant people, newborns and babies from heat and air pollution are:
- Preterm birth, the biggest cause of newborn illness and death
- Low birthweight, a risk factor for health problems after birth
- Worse health for pregnant people during and right after pregnancy, such as higher risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) and pre-eclampsia
- Increased risk of stillbirth and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) from higher temperatures
- Asthma in childhood from prenatal exposure to air pollution
- Higher risk of conditions like autism spectrum disorder from exposure to air pollution during pregnancy
Why climate change affects some communities more than others
People from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds breathe in more dirty air from burning fossil fuels—no matter their income level. In fact, they breathe 20% more of this pollution than white people.
Because of historic racist policies and ongoing discrimination, communities where people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and low wealth reside are more likely to be hotter. This exposes them to higher temperatures that put health at risk.
Black people and their babies have a higher risk of poor perinatal outcomes. One main reason is their increased exposure to extreme heat and air pollution during pregnancy and after birth.
How can I protect myself and my baby during pregnancy and after they are born?
- Check the Air Quality Index (AQI) in your area. The AQI provides details about air quality and actions you can take to protect your health. Examples may include: limiting outdoor activity, using AC or having asthma inhalers ready.
- Know the risks of heat exposure in the workplace and learn how to avoid exposure to extreme heat and air pollution during pregnancy
- Keep babies cool and hydrated
- Never leave your children alone in a vehicle
- Electrify your home (electric stove, heat pump). Select power companies that use non-polluting energy, if possible and available in your area
- Choose higher rated filters for your home’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. Look for a filter with a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) rating of 13 or higher to catch smaller particles in the air.
- Stay up to date on mask guidance when the air is heavily polluted
- Consider zero-emission vehicles and use public transportation or walk and bike when it is safe
It’s not too late. Reducing fossil fuel use will provide health benefits right away. It is the best way to slow climate change and make our air quality better.
Talk with your pediatrician about protecting your family from heat and pollution. By shifting to non-polluting energy sources, we prevent further warming and harms from climate change. Reducing fossil fuels is good for our health. Reducing pollution today reduces climate change tomorrow.
I hope you find this article helpful as well as interesting.