The air you breathe can affect the birth of your babies, that understanding is part of a new multi-centre study out of Western University, Brescia University College and the Lawson Health Research Institute.

Getting outside and taking a breath of fresh air, may not be a breath of fresh air at all, if you’re pregnant

“We found that sulfur dioxide exposure is highly associated with pre-term birth and low birth weight,” says Dr. Jamie Seabrook, a researcher for Lawson and Brescia.

Using a sample database of over 25,000 live births at London Health Sciences Centre between 2009 and 2014, the research team was able to determine exactly how sulfur dioxide in the air can leads to adverse birth outcomes.

Dr. Jason Gilliland, a Western and Lawson researcher, says, “For every one unit increase in sulfur dioxide in parts per billion, women were 3.4 times more likely to have a low birth weight baby and they were also two times more likely to have a pre-term birth.”

He adds that it can cause major health concerns for the baby.

Seabrook explains, “Both pre-term birth and low birth rate is associated with a higher risk of neonatal morbidity and mortality as well as a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and hypertension in adulthood.”

About 67 per cent of sulfur dioxide emissions come from smelters and utilities, and 25 per cent from other industrial sources. It’s also present in vehicle emissions.

As for what's can be done, Gilliland says, “We need to be able to have a warning system so that we can let women know when these levels are high so that when these levels are high we might want to make sure they aren’t exercising outdoors and maybe make sure the windows are rolled up”.

The next step in this study will be to identify geographical clusters or hot spots of sulfur dioxide exposure.