Being 6 months pregnant has been very challenging these past few months, especially with the major heat wave which saw the UK reach a sweltering 37C. It’s no surprise that Google search terms for air conditioning peaked between 22nd and 28th July!
On the plus side it’s been a great summer for being outdoors, I’ve really been enjoying my walk into work where I can soak up the sun and listen to podcasts on baby advice. I’ve actually become very inquisitive recently, trying to find out as much information as possible about babies – how they develop, how to make sure they don’t get too hot and how to keep them safe.
Unfortunately I’m starting to realise that some things are out of my control and with the recent news regarding the effect of air pollution on babies I can’t help but reach for the cotton wool!
Air pollution is out of control
According to The BBC, experts have said that infants are exposed to dirtier air in prams because they are lower to the ground and closer to exhaust pipes. Unfortunately this makes perfect sense and is a topic that my colleague Janvi highlighted when looking into the effects of air pollution on our pets.
As an avid walker (my walk to work takes about 45 mins and I cross a few major roads), even I find the air a bit choky in rush hour so I can only imagine how my baby will feel when she’s sat in a pushchair; I’m having a girl by the way!
In the early stages of life, new-borns breathe in cycles called periodic breathing which matures as they do. They are also adjusting to using their lungs which are developing air sacs very quickly so the quality of the air they breathe is extremely important.
Alongside that their brains are developing too, in fact their tissue and immune systems should not be exposed to high levels of pollution, especially when it’s as dangerous as studies are predicting in urban areas. Air pollution can also stunt growth and cause respiratory and cardiovascular health problems, even for adults.
How can we take control?
It’s not only babies in prams who are at risk from air pollution, the World Health Organisation reports that 570,000 children under the age of 5 die every year (worldwide) from illnesses that could be linked to pollution. I have also seen in the news a lot recently that more children are being diagnosed with asthma and in turn suffering from life threatening asthma attacks. Thankfully there are a few things we can do to help reduce the effects of air pollution such as not walking on busy and main roads, using a pram cover or choosing paths with roadside hedges.
Surprisingly it is actually better to walk, even though it might feel like exposing yourself to the elements means you’re exposing yourself to higher levels of pollutants. Due to harmful exhaust gasses passing through air vents into the interior of a car, air pollution is on average 21% higher inside than out.
This is also true in homes, which is why effective ventilation solutions like a Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery system is a great way to extract stale indoor door and replace it with fresh, filtered outside air; a brilliant idea for my nursery!
If you do use a car, regardless of whether you have a child or not, you should try and set the car air control to ‘recirculated’ when in traffic. This means the air inside your car will be reused rather than drawing pollutants from idle traffic exhausts outside – if only we could apply an effective ventilation solution here too!
If like me you are a fan of walking, the tips to where best to walk to avoid traffic are key, you can even find websites that cater to urban walking and low pollution routes, for example http://walkit.com.
I have also read that walking on the side of the path that a building is on versus the side of the road can reduce your pollution exposure by 30%, so there are small things you can do that shouldn’t affect you route too much.
Ultimately however the Government needs to improve their focus on reducing air pollution by lowering emissions on roads and encouraging the use of public transport (although I hear bus stops are pollution hotspots!)
As someone who lives quite close to London I am always interested in hearing what the Mayor of London is doing to tackle air pollution. T Charges, ultra-low emissions zones and phasing out diesel buses are just some of the ways the capital is trying to make a difference and other councils around the country are starting to follow suit.
At the beginning of 2017 the London Mayor even announced plans to protect London’s schools from air pollution, so this makes me extremely relieved.
Between now and the birth of my daughter, I am sure there will be more reports coming out about the state of our air quality and to tackle the worries I will continue to look for ways to lower our risks as much as possible.
Either way I am hopeful that in her lifetime air quality will improve dramatically, especially with the ban on diesel cars and the move towards an electric economy.
So fingers crossed in a few years to come we can all breathe a (clean) sigh of relief when it comes to the quality of air for future generations.