Nov. 29, 2022 -- Air pollution is linked to almost 1 million stillbirths each year, according to new research published in Nature Communications, accounting for almost half the total number of stillbirths that occur around the world.

The study used data on stillbirths and air pollution from 1998 to 2016 from 54 “low and middle income” countries, including Pakistan, India, and Nigeria. Almost all the world’s stillbirths occur in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

The research is based on data from more than 45,000 live births and stillbirths. It is the first research to measure the number of fetal deaths attributable to air pollution, which was already known to raise the chance of stillbirth.

The study looked at small particle pollution from fossil fuels but did not explore how it could cause stillbirths. Research published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health in October showed that toxic air pollution particles have been detected in the lungs and brains of fetuses.

“Air pollution particles were first detected in placentas in 2018 and by then dirty air was known to strongly correlate with increased miscarriages, premature births, low birth weights and disturbed brain development,” The Guardian reported.

Researchers said it’s not clear how air pollution might cause stillbirths. Pollution particles passing through the mother’s placenta could cause “irreversible embryonic damage,” and air pollution could inhibit the mother’s ability to pass oxygen to the fetus.

“Current efforts to prevent stillbirth focus on medical service improvements but compared to clinical risk factors, environmental ones are usually unseen,” the researchers said.

“Clean air policies, which have been enacted in some countries, such as China, can prevent stillbirths. In addition, personal protections against air pollution, i.e. wearing masks, installing air purifiers, avoiding going outside when air pollution occurs could also protect vulnerable pregnant women.”

Show Sources

Nature Communications: “Estimation of stillbirths attributable to ambient fine particles in 137 countries”

The Guardian: “Air pollution linked to almost a million stillbirths a year”

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