How climate change and air pollution affect pregnancy and human development

To recognize the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE) has partnered with the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) and the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) to produce a series of infographics for health professionals to communicate with their patients about the adverse impacts of climate change, air pollution, and environmental chemicals on pregnancy and development—and what we can do about it. The series begins with information on climate change and air pollution.

Pregnant women and children are among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and air pollution. For example, physiological changes during pregnancy, such as a 40% increase in the amount of air pregnant women breathe per minute, and a 50% increase in how hard pregnant women’s hearts work, make pregnant women more susceptible to air pollution. Research shows that prenatal exposure to air pollutants PM2.5 and ozone contribute to adverse pregnancy outcomes including preterm birth and low birthweight.

Climate change has already led to more frequent natural disasters, extreme weather and temperatures, rising sea levels, and displacement. These trends affect food and housing security, vector-borne illness, and access to clean air and water, all of which influence human health. Climate change and global warming are impacted by air pollution, which increases the amount of carbon dioxide in our air. Research has linked climate change with poor pregnancy outcomes that can have lasting effects on children and the health of subsequent generations.

So what can we do? PRHE is joining with FIGO and HEAL to recommend that obstetrician-gynecologists and other health-care professionals advocate for policies that reduce pollution and help prevent climate change. We have created a series of materials to inform health-care professionals and their patients about what they can do. Go to FIGO’s website to access the materials and learn more!