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Living Near A Major Highway Linked With Preterm Birth

A Japanese study suggests that women who live near major, heavily-trafficked roads are more likely to give birth prematurely than women who live near less busy roads.

The thought is that the pollution–either of the toxic or, interestingly, noise variety–may play a role. But Takashi Yorifuji, of the Okayama Graduate School of Medicine, and the co-authors of this study say it’s too soon to see a link.

Researchers studied more than 14,000 babies born between 1997 and 2008 in Shizuoka, about 100 miles outside Tokyo. They looked at proximity to major roads and detailed pregnancy reports and found that 15 % of women living within 200 meters of a heavily-trafficked roads gave birth before 37 weeks, compared to 10 % of women living further away.

“Air pollution is considered to be a potentially important risk factor of preterm births,” Yorifuji told Reuters Health. So what should you do if you live near some massive amounts of traffic?

Yorifuji says, reduce the time you’re active outside and do other things to reduce the chance of prematurity like not smoking and eating a healthy diet.

I went through one pregnancy essentially right on top of an eight-lane massive urban thoroughfare. You may have heard of it? It’s called Broadway. My gut feeling and increased sense of smell told me to avoid lots of lots of bus fume inhalation. It made me sick to walk down the street where the hospital is because the ambulances idle all day and night, just spewing carbon monoxide. I walked around the back of the hospital on the way to pick my son up from school. Every time I did it, I’d think, “Jesus, this is depressing and probably useless.”

I considered moving to the country for nine months—which apparently some women actually do if they are pregnant in a particularly sooty area– but really, that was not even remotely possible. As it is not for almost all women.

The thing I’d prefer to see at the end of stories about pregnancy and pollution is a little less of what pregnant women can do and a little more about what can the government do. How can we reduce pollution? How can we make it easier for pregnant women to, hello, walk down the street!! when they are pregnant without fearing some toxic repercussions? It’s too much already. We all care about fetuses, but there’s only so much a breathing individual can do. If it’s at all reassuring, my daughter was born (above the same 8 lane-heavily trafficked street) five days late at a full 8 pounds 9 ounces.

photo: songglod/flickr

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