Researchers at Queen Mary University of London presented evidence from a small study at the European Respiratory Society International Congress that air pollution breathed in by pregnant women can travel through the bloodstream to the placenta, which nourishes and sustains the life of the fetus via the umbilical cord.
The researchers studied the placentas of five women who were non-smokers, had uncomplicated pregnancies, and gave birth to healthy babies, focusing on cells called placental macrophages. Macrophages trap harmful particles like bacteria and pollutants and in the placenta, and they also help protect the fetus. Overall, they analyzed 3,500 placental macrophage cells and found evidence of carbon particles in some of them.
According to the researchers, this information adds to previous research indicating that exposure to air pollution during pregnancy may raise the risk for premature birth, low birth weight, infant mortality, and childhood respiratory problems.