Study: Polluted air during pregnancy a long-term risk to child's heart health

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BOSTON (CBS) Keeping air pollution in check may be a serious health matter for mothers and their babies. A new study is the first to show that breathing polluted air during pregnancy may affect a child's long term heart health.

In most American cities air pollution from cars and factories is a fact of life. Now a new study raises a red flag for pregnant women: higher levels of pollution can pose a health threat even inside the womb.

"What we found was that air pollution exposure during the third trimester in particular was associated with higher blood pressure in children," said Dr. Noel Mueller with John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Babies exposed to higher air pollution in the final trimester were in fact 61-percent more likely to have elevated blood pressure. Researchers looked at nearly 1,300 mothers and their babies from the Boston area. They measured the childrens' blood pressure at each doctor's appointment from the age of three to nine. The problem doesn't end with childhood. Doctor Mueller says it can last a lifetime. "We know that blood pressure tracks through life. Children who have elevated blood pressure in childhood have a higher probability of having hypertension later in life and cardiovascular diseases," he said.

The study in the American Heart Association's journal Hypertension does not suggest women uproot to less polluted areas, but that they take sensible precautions. "If they are exercising during the third trimester of pregnancy they may want to consider not exercising outside in highly polluted areas," Mueller said. He says the government needs regulations to keep the air clean, for the health of the planet and the health of our children.

Previous studies have shown air pollution in the third trimester may lead to faster weight gain for babies. Researchers think that might be a factor in developing elevated blood pressure.