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Air Pollution Exposure May Slow Fetal Growth

Study suggests that toxins alter cell activity and cut oxygen to baby

WEDNESDAY, April 8 (HealthDay News) -- Air pollution may slow the normal growth of a developing fetus, a U.S. study has found.

Researchers looked at data on nearly 336,000 births in New Jersey between 1999 and 2003 and at daily air pollution readings from across the state. Readings from monitoring sites within six miles of the mothers' homes were used to calculate average levels of air pollution during their pregnancies.

The study found that the risk of a small birth-weight baby increased significantly with each increase in particulate matter of 4 micrograms per cubic meter during the first and third trimesters of pregnancy. Each 10 parts per billion increase in nitrogen oxide exposure was also associated with a large increase in the risk of a small birth-weight baby.

The findings suggest that traffic pollution or living close to a major road could be linked to restricted fetal growth, said David Rich and colleagues from the department of epidemiology at the School of Public Health, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, in Piscataway, N.J.

They also found that exposure to particulate matter in later pregnancy was associated with a two- to fivefold increased risk of restricted fetal growth among mothers with separation of the placenta before birth and premature rupture of the membrane, compared with mothers who did not have these complications.

The findings were published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

It's not clear exactly how air pollution affects fetal growth, the researchers said. They noted that previous research found that air pollution might alter cell activity or reduce the amount of oxygen and nutrients received by a fetus.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about air pollution and health.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: BMJ Specialist Journals, news release, April 9, 2009

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