Babies may be at higher risk for premature birth when their mothers live near a concentration of freeways and main roads. Who says? Australian researchers who looked at 970 mothers and their newborn babies found that when moms-to-be lived within a quarter mile of a highway or major intersection, length of pregnancy was reduced by two weeks. Compared to moms who lived away from highways and busy roads, women living in high traffic saw their pregnancies shortened by an average of 4.4 percent, raising the likelihood of a baby being born prematurely.
What gives? Frequent exposure to air pollution (due to truck and car emissions) may introduce toxic chemicals into a woman's system that somehow trigger preterm labor. But researchers also think that traffic noise—loud enough to keep a woman up all night—may also play a role.
"Vehicles braking and starting means that road junctions have some of the highest levels of noise and air pollution," says research author Adrian Barnett, associate professor from Australia's Queensland University of Technology's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation. "Disturbed sleep during pregnancy may cause extra stress and be a risk factor for adverse birth outcomes."
Concerned about the health of your big-city environment? There are many easy steps urban moms can take to reduce noise and air pollution. Think about investing in a quality air purifier for your home, or at least the rooms you spend the most time in. And don't forget about the power of plants! English ivy, philodendron, pothos (also called devil's ivy), and spider plant have each been shown to be effective in removing toxins from the air, including benzene, a toxin release by car exhaust. For a deeper sleep, despite the noise, try out a "white noise" machine to dull background sounds—the whirring fan of an air purifier or air conditioner can also be effective in blocking outdoor sounds.