How does climate change affect mothers and children worldwide?

Even newborns and their mothers are not spared from the acute air pollution, which is one of the causes of climate change. A recent study conducted by a research group revealed that exposure of pregnant women to polluted air before childbirth may result in newborns developing respiratory distress syndrome.

This syndrome is a serious condition where the lungs fail to supply vital organs with the necessary oxygen for essential functions.

The risk increases with the mother’s exposure to fine particles and nitrogen dioxide, primarily from cigarette smoke and forest fires.

Researchers published their findings in the “Environmental Health Perspectives” journal on January 25, 2024.

A Global Concern

Acute respiratory distress syndrome is the leading cause of newborns being admitted to intensive care units.

It was not previously known that air pollution inhaled by mothers could cause infants to develop this condition before this study. It was previously understood that when a mother experiences respiratory problems, the child may later develop respiratory diseases such as asthma.


Researchers analyzed a study based on data from 2001 pregnant women from 10 different cities in Canada exposed to various chemicals, including nitrogen dioxide and PM2.5 particles.

They tracked the mother’s condition three months before pregnancy until the end of pregnancy. They also used information from satellites and devices to monitor air quality on the ground.


The researchers linked the pollution level with the severity of acute respiratory distress syndrome and presented several findings:

After Birth: This was observed in children born to mothers exposed to high levels of PM2.5, requiring doctors to intervene with ventilation and systemic antibiotics.

During Pregnancy: There was a clear association between exposure to PM2.5 particles and acute respiratory distress syndrome before and during pregnancy.

Exposure to Nitrogen Dioxide: Researchers found that mothers exposed to air laden with nitrogen dioxide affected their children, increasing their need for systemic antibiotics.

For the first time, health was put on the agenda of COP28, a unique event where a conference dedicated to climate change welcomed health experts.

The conference produced the UAE Health Declaration, which included several items, notably the necessity to preserve air quality from pollution. Every day, research linking climate and health emerges, underscoring the importance of safeguarding human health from the effects of climate change.

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