Air pollution

KEY POINTS

  • Air pollution inside and outside your home can cause problems for you and your family. During pregnancy it increases your risk for premature birth.

  • Don’t smoke and keep secondhand smoke out of your home.

  • Use carbon monoxide alarms and test your home for asbestos, mold and radon. During pregnancy, don’t paint or use cleaners with strong smells.

  • Follow air quality advice from local health officials.

  • If you’re worried about air pollution, talk to your health care provider.

What is air pollution? 

Air pollution is harmful substances in the air that can affect breathing and harm your health. Air pollution can happen both inside and outside. It can get worse if there’s no breeze or wind or when it’s sunny and warm. Air pollution includes:

  • Smoke from tobacco products and fires
  • Asbestos, carbon monoxide, ozone and radon
  • Chemicals and smoke from factories
  • Dust, mold and pollen
  • Fumes from paint and strong chemicals

Air pollution can affect your eyes, throat and lungs. High levels of air pollution can cause your eyes to burn, coughing and burning in the chest. These symptoms can be worse when you exercise or if you have asthma or other lung problems.

Can air pollution affect pregnancy and your baby? 

Yes. Exposure to air pollution during pregnancy can increase your risk of premature birth and low birthweight. Premature birth is birth that happens too soon, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Low birthweight is when a baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.

Your exposure to air pollution during pregnancy may affect your child’s health (especially breathing) and learning skills later in life. More research is needed to find out how air pollution affects your baby’s health and development.

If you’re worried about air pollution and how it can affect your pregnancy and your baby, talk to your health care provider

Asbestos 

Asbestos is a mineral that can resist fire and heat. It was used to fireproof, soundproof and insulate homes, schools and other buildings from the 1940s through the 1970s. It also was used in floor tiles, roof shingles and car parts. Some older homes still have asbestos in insulation used for pipes, stoves, walls and ceilings.

Breathing in high levels of asbestos over a long period of time can cause serious health problems, like lung cancer and a kind of cancer called mesothelioma. 

Even if asbestos is in your home, it’s only harmful if it becomes damaged and crumbly, so that its fibers get into the air. 

Here’s how to protect you and your family from asbestos:

  • Hire a professional inspector to check for asbestos in your home. Your local health department can give you a list of inspectors. 
  • If your home contains asbestos that’s in good condition, it may be best to leave it alone. Your inspector can give you advice on what to do. If the asbestos has to be removed, hire a licensed contractor to do the work. Your local health department can give you a list of contractors. Don’t try to remove the asbestos yourself.
  • Don’t let your baby play near anything that may contain asbestos.
  • Don’t touch, remove, dust or sweep anything that may contain asbestos. Don’t track dust that may contain asbestos through the house. 

Carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide (also called CO) is a poisonous gas that comes from things like stoves, water heaters, cigarette smoke and car exhaust. You can’t smell, taste or see it and it doesn’t irritate your skin. But if you’re exposed to it, it can kill you. People sometimes call it the silent killer. 

You may have CO poisoning if you:

  • Have nausea (feeling sick to your stomach) or vomiting
  • Are severely tired
  • Are confused
  • Have trouble with muscle coordination
  • Faint

To help prevent CO poisoning:

  • Put CO alarms outside all bedrooms.
  • Have fuel-burning appliances (like stoves or ovens), furnace flues and chimneys checked for safety at the beginning of the heating season (fall or winter).
  • Don’t use gas ovens or burners to heat your home.
  • Don’t use charcoal grills inside, even in a fireplace.
  • Don’t use gas-powered mowers, saws, generators or other equipment inside.
  • Don’t let your car idle (run for a long time) in a garage.

If you or anyone else in your home has any signs or symptoms of CO poisoning, call 911 or go to the emergency room.

Cleaning product fumes

Cleaning products include a lot of substances and chemicals, including solvents (that dissolve things), acids and fragrances. Some of these alone can be dangerous, and some become harmful when mixed together. 

Here’s how to help prevent exposure to fumes from cleaning products:

  • Don’t mix products. For example, don’t mix bleach and ammonia because it creates a harmful gas.
  • Use cleaning products in places that have good air flow.
  • Wear gloves.
  • Use natural cleaners, like baking soda or vinegar.
  • Look for the Design for the Environment (DfE) logo on products. These products contain the least-harmful cleaning chemicals.

Mold 

Mold is a fungus that often looks like fuzzy spots of different colors, like green, gray or black. It spreads through tiny spores (cells) that float through the air. Mold can be inside or outside your home. If it grows inside, it may cause health problems for you and your family.

You may find mold in: 

  • The kitchen, basement and bathrooms
  • Air conditioners and humidifiers
  • Trash cans
  • Mattresses
  • Carpet

Breathing in or touching mold can make you more likely to develop allergies, asthma and other health problems. Signs and symptoms of exposure to mold include: 

  • A stuffy or runny nose and sneezing
  • Sore throat, coughing or wheezing
  • Red or itchy eyes 
  • Skin rash
  • Headaches

Here’s how to prevent mold in your home:

  • Fix plumbing leaks and other water problems. If you have a flood, clean and dry your home within 24 to 48 hours. Remove and replace carpets, fabric and furniture that can’t be dried quickly.
  • Make sure your home gets good air flow, especially in the kitchen, laundry room and bathroom. Use fans or open a window to help keep air moving. Make sure the clothes dryer vents outside. 
  • If you see moisture on windows, walls or pipes, dry it quickly. Open windows or use an air conditioner or a dehumidifier to keep the air dry, especially in damp spaces like the basement. 
  • Clean and repair gutters on your roof.
  • Try to make the ground slope away from your home so water doesn't come in or pool around the foundation. 
  • Before painting or caulking, clean and dry moldy areas. Paint doesn’t always stick to mold. If you paint a surface that has mold on it, the paint may peel.

If you can see or smell mold and the area is small (less than 3 feet by 3 feet), ask your partner or someone else to clean it up. If it’s larger, hire a professional cleaning service. If you’re cleaning up a small area of mold yourself, talk to your health care provider to make sure the products you’re using are safe during pregnancy. To clean small areas of mold, wear gloves and use one of these:

  • Soap and water
  • A mixture of bleach and water. Use 1 cup of bleach per 1 gallon of water. Don’t mix bleach with ammonia or other household cleaners. Make sure the room where you’re cleaning has good air flow. Use a fan or open the windows if you’re using cleaners that have strong smells.
  • Cleaning products that kill mold. You can buy these at hardware and grocery stores. Read the label to make sure they’re safe to use during pregnancy. Or ask your provider if it’s safe to use. Make sure the room where you’re cleaning has good air flow. Use a fan or open the windows if you’re using cleaners that have strong smells.

Ozone

Ozone is a gas that comes from car exhaust, gasoline and fumes from factories and chemicals. When ozone mixes with other pollution, it’s called smog. Smog is air pollution that reduces your ability to see. Ozone can be both inside and outside. Exposure to ozone during pregnancy can cause your baby to be born with low birthweight. 

The Air Quality Index (also called AQI) is a measure from the Environmental Protection Agency (also called EPA) that reports levels of certain types of pollution, including ozone. 

Here’s what you can do when the AQI says there’s poor air quality in your area:

  • Follow the air quality advice. For example, you may be advised to stay inside as much as possible and not exercise outside. To learn about air quality in your area, go to airnow.gov.
  • Don’t do hard exercise. For example, walk instead of run.
  • Don’t exercise near roads with a lot of traffic.
  • If you have a wood stove, burn only wood in it. Don’t burn trash or plastic. If your stove is old, replace it with one that’s approved by the EPA.

Paint fumes

Paint fumes are gases that come from paint. The fumes can be dangerous to you and your baby during pregnancy.

Exposure to any kind of paint (oil-based or water-based, also called latex) fume can cause:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue (severe tiredness)

To help prevent exposure to paint fumes:

  • If you’re pregnant, don’t use paint. Stay out of rooms that have recently been painted.
  • Read the instructions on any paint before you use it.
  • Open the doors and windows in any room that’s being painted or has recently been painted. Use a fan to keep the air moving in and out of the room for about 48 hours after painting.
  • Don’t use paint that’s labeled “for exterior use only.” This is probably an oil-based paint and is more dangerous than latex paint.

Radon

Radon is a gas that can cause lung cancer. It comes from the breakdown of a metal called uranium in soil, rock and water. It also can be found in natural gas and building materials. You can’t see or smell radon. Breathing air with radon it in can cause lung cancer. Radon is the second most common cause of lung cancer in the United States, after smoking.

Many homes in this country have high levels of radon. It comes up from soil into homes through cracks and gaps in floors, walls and around pipes. It also may be in your water supply.

To protect you and your family from radon: 

  • Ask your health care provider or your local health department if radon levels are high in the area where you live. 
  • Test your home for radon. It’s easy, doesn’t cost much money and takes just a few minutes. You can buy a kit at hardware and home-supply stores. Or you can hire a professional to do the test in your home. Visit epa.gov/radon to learn more about radon testing. 
  • If you radon levels are high, do repairs like fixing cracks and gaps in floors, walls and around pipes. Use epa.gov/radon to find certified radon contractors in your area.
  • Test your water for radon. If you have well water, test your well. If you get water from your community, contact your water supplier. 

Tobacco smoke and secondhand smoke

Tobacco smoke comes from tobacco products, like cigarettes, cigars and pipe tobacco. Secondhand smoke is smoke from other people’s tobacco products. Any kind of smoke is harmful for you and your baby.

To help protect you, your baby and your family from tobacco and secondhand smoke:

  • Don’t smoke. If you need help to quit smoking, tell your health care provider.
  • Stay away from places where people smoke.
  • Don’t let people smoke in your home or car.

More information

Last reviewed: May, 2016

What is air pollution? 

Air pollution is harmful substances in the air that can affect breathing and harm your health. Air pollution can happen both inside and outside. It can get worse if there’s no breeze or wind or when it’s sunny and warm. Air pollution includes:

  • Smoke from tobacco products and fires
  • Asbestos, carbon monoxide, ozone and radon
  • Chemicals and smoke from factories
  • Dust, mold and pollen
  • Fumes from paint and strong chemicals

Air pollution can affect your eyes, throat and lungs. High levels of air pollution can cause your eyes to burn, coughing and burning in the chest. These symptoms can be worse when you exercise or if you have asthma or other lung problems.

Can air pollution affect pregnancy and your baby? 

Yes. Exposure to air pollution during pregnancy can increase your risk of premature birth and low birthweight. Premature birth is birth that happens too soon, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Low birthweight is when a baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.

Your exposure to air pollution during pregnancy may affect your child’s health (especially breathing) and learning skills later in life. More research is needed to find out how air pollution affects your baby’s health and development.

If you’re worried about air pollution and how it can affect your pregnancy and your baby, talk to your health care provider

Asbestos 

Asbestos is a mineral that can resist fire and heat. It was used to fireproof, soundproof and insulate homes, schools and other buildings from the 1940s through the 1970s. It also was used in floor tiles, roof shingles and car parts. Some older homes still have asbestos in insulation used for pipes, stoves, walls and ceilings.

Breathing in high levels of asbestos over a long period of time can cause serious health problems, like lung cancer and a kind of cancer called mesothelioma. 

Even if asbestos is in your home, it’s only harmful if it becomes damaged and crumbly, so that its fibers get into the air. 

Here’s how to protect you and your family from asbestos:

  • Hire a professional inspector to check for asbestos in your home. Your local health department can give you a list of inspectors. 
  • If your home contains asbestos that’s in good condition, it may be best to leave it alone. Your inspector can give you advice on what to do. If the asbestos has to be removed, hire a licensed contractor to do the work. Your local health department can give you a list of contractors. Don’t try to remove the asbestos yourself.
  • Don’t let your baby play near anything that may contain asbestos.
  • Don’t touch, remove, dust or sweep anything that may contain asbestos. Don’t track dust that may contain asbestos through the house. 

Carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide (also called CO) is a poisonous gas that comes from things like stoves, water heaters, cigarette smoke and car exhaust. You can’t smell, taste or see it and it doesn’t irritate your skin. But if you’re exposed to it, it can kill you. People sometimes call it the silent killer. 

You may have CO poisoning if you:

  • Have nausea (feeling sick to your stomach) or vomiting
  • Are severely tired
  • Are confused
  • Have trouble with muscle coordination
  • Faint

To help prevent CO poisoning:

  • Put CO alarms outside all bedrooms.
  • Have fuel-burning appliances (like stoves or ovens), furnace flues and chimneys checked for safety at the beginning of the heating season (fall or winter).
  • Don’t use gas ovens or burners to heat your home.
  • Don’t use charcoal grills inside, even in a fireplace.
  • Don’t use gas-powered mowers, saws, generators or other equipment inside.
  • Don’t let your car idle (run for a long time) in a garage.

If you or anyone else in your home has any signs or symptoms of CO poisoning, call 911 or go to the emergency room.

Cleaning product fumes

Cleaning products include a lot of substances and chemicals, including solvents (that dissolve things), acids and fragrances. Some of these alone can be dangerous, and some become harmful when mixed together. 

Here’s how to help prevent exposure to fumes from cleaning products:

  • Don’t mix products. For example, don’t mix bleach and ammonia because it creates a harmful gas.
  • Use cleaning products in places that have good air flow.
  • Wear gloves.
  • Use natural cleaners, like baking soda or vinegar.
  • Look for the Design for the Environment (DfE) logo on products. These products contain the least-harmful cleaning chemicals.

Mold 

Mold is a fungus that often looks like fuzzy spots of different colors, like green, gray or black. It spreads through tiny spores (cells) that float through the air. Mold can be inside or outside your home. If it grows inside, it may cause health problems for you and your family.

You may find mold in: 

  • The kitchen, basement and bathrooms
  • Air conditioners and humidifiers
  • Trash cans
  • Mattresses
  • Carpet

Breathing in or touching mold can make you more likely to develop allergies, asthma and other health problems. Signs and symptoms of exposure to mold include: 

  • A stuffy or runny nose and sneezing
  • Sore throat, coughing or wheezing
  • Red or itchy eyes 
  • Skin rash
  • Headaches

Here’s how to prevent mold in your home:

  • Fix plumbing leaks and other water problems. If you have a flood, clean and dry your home within 24 to 48 hours. Remove and replace carpets, fabric and furniture that can’t be dried quickly.
  • Make sure your home gets good air flow, especially in the kitchen, laundry room and bathroom. Use fans or open a window to help keep air moving. Make sure the clothes dryer vents outside. 
  • If you see moisture on windows, walls or pipes, dry it quickly. Open windows or use an air conditioner or a dehumidifier to keep the air dry, especially in damp spaces like the basement. 
  • Clean and repair gutters on your roof.
  • Try to make the ground slope away from your home so water doesn't come in or pool around the foundation. 
  • Before painting or caulking, clean and dry moldy areas. Paint doesn’t always stick to mold. If you paint a surface that has mold on it, the paint may peel.

If you can see or smell mold and the area is small (less than 3 feet by 3 feet), ask your partner or someone else to clean it up. If it’s larger, hire a professional cleaning service. If you’re cleaning up a small area of mold yourself, talk to your health care provider to make sure the products you’re using are safe during pregnancy. To clean small areas of mold, wear gloves and use one of these:

  • Soap and water
  • A mixture of bleach and water. Use 1 cup of bleach per 1 gallon of water. Don’t mix bleach with ammonia or other household cleaners. Make sure the room where you’re cleaning has good air flow. Use a fan or open the windows if you’re using cleaners that have strong smells.
  • Cleaning products that kill mold. You can buy these at hardware and grocery stores. Read the label to make sure they’re safe to use during pregnancy. Or ask your provider if it’s safe to use. Make sure the room where you’re cleaning has good air flow. Use a fan or open the windows if you’re using cleaners that have strong smells.

Ozone

Ozone is a gas that comes from car exhaust, gasoline and fumes from factories and chemicals. When ozone mixes with other pollution, it’s called smog. Smog is air pollution that reduces your ability to see. Ozone can be both inside and outside. Exposure to ozone during pregnancy can cause your baby to be born with low birthweight. 

The Air Quality Index (also called AQI) is a measure from the Environmental Protection Agency (also called EPA) that reports levels of certain types of pollution, including ozone. 

Here’s what you can do when the AQI says there’s poor air quality in your area:

  • Follow the air quality advice. For example, you may be advised to stay inside as much as possible and not exercise outside. To learn about air quality in your area, go to airnow.gov.
  • Don’t do hard exercise. For example, walk instead of run.
  • Don’t exercise near roads with a lot of traffic.
  • If you have a wood stove, burn only wood in it. Don’t burn trash or plastic. If your stove is old, replace it with one that’s approved by the EPA.

Paint fumes

Paint fumes are gases that come from paint. The fumes can be dangerous to you and your baby during pregnancy.

Exposure to any kind of paint (oil-based or water-based, also called latex) fume can cause:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue (severe tiredness)

To help prevent exposure to paint fumes:

  • If you’re pregnant, don’t use paint. Stay out of rooms that have recently been painted.
  • Read the instructions on any paint before you use it.
  • Open the doors and windows in any room that’s being painted or has recently been painted. Use a fan to keep the air moving in and out of the room for about 48 hours after painting.
  • Don’t use paint that’s labeled “for exterior use only.” This is probably an oil-based paint and is more dangerous than latex paint.

Radon

Radon is a gas that can cause lung cancer. It comes from the breakdown of a metal called uranium in soil, rock and water. It also can be found in natural gas and building materials. You can’t see or smell radon. Breathing air with radon it in can cause lung cancer. Radon is the second most common cause of lung cancer in the United States, after smoking.

Many homes in this country have high levels of radon. It comes up from soil into homes through cracks and gaps in floors, walls and around pipes. It also may be in your water supply.

To protect you and your family from radon: 

  • Ask your health care provider or your local health department if radon levels are high in the area where you live. 
  • Test your home for radon. It’s easy, doesn’t cost much money and takes just a few minutes. You can buy a kit at hardware and home-supply stores. Or you can hire a professional to do the test in your home. Visit epa.gov/radon to learn more about radon testing. 
  • If you radon levels are high, do repairs like fixing cracks and gaps in floors, walls and around pipes. Use epa.gov/radon to find certified radon contractors in your area.
  • Test your water for radon. If you have well water, test your well. If you get water from your community, contact your water supplier. 

Tobacco smoke and secondhand smoke

Tobacco smoke comes from tobacco products, like cigarettes, cigars and pipe tobacco. Secondhand smoke is smoke from other people’s tobacco products. Any kind of smoke is harmful for you and your baby.

To help protect you, your baby and your family from tobacco and secondhand smoke:

  • Don’t smoke. If you need help to quit smoking, tell your health care provider.
  • Stay away from places where people smoke.
  • Don’t let people smoke in your home or car.

More information

Last reviewed: May, 2016