Can you image the difference in how you would feel if you were sitting by an open window during rush-hour traffic surrounded by buildings and concrete, or sitting on a bench by a clear lake graced with the sounds of birds and a gentle breeze moving through the forest? There is growing evidence supporting your being plagued by the subtle, negative perceptions of stress, nausea, and uneasy feelings when engulfed by urban environments. Air, water, and soil quality and building conditions found in the built environment have been correlated with a mother’s health and her birth outcomes. Solutions may be found by associating with plants.

The negative forces found in a poor quality environment reach deep within the body to influence miscarriages, preterm birth, low birth weight, and ill health found in both mother and child (4). Parts of an urban, built environment include buildings and pollution. Human behavior may be influenced with conditions found in artificial, human settings that drive the success of birth outcomes.     

            The built environment is one where there is a high concentration of people, vehicles, and buildings that absorb and release heat, gases, and pollutants. The addition of rich green-space buffers the waste streams found in asphalt and concrete cities. A series of cause-and-effect relationships prompted by feedback loops sets the stage for the quality of life for you and your child. Poor birth outcomes are one of the leading causes in childhood death and are linked to adult illnesses (2).

The atmosphere is filled with chemical and particles. The survival of life is dependent upon some chemical compounds, such as oxygen. Some chemicals and particles may accumulate to a point where the air becomes a mixture that is hazardous to your health. Carbon, ozone, and nitrogen are chemicals that form toxic pollutants found in the air and are associated with negative birth outcomes, such as preterm births and newborn heart defects (4).

Particulate matter is released into the atmosphere from urban traffic, construction, and exposed soil. The particles found in the air impacts maternal health and birth outcomes in mice. Studies conducted on mice reveal that atmospheric particulate matter may reduce the number of fertile cycles over time (6). As a result, longer periods of time are needed for a woman to conceive and her fertility rate is reduced due to the suspended particles in the air. There was a lower birth weight when the mother was exposed to the contaminated air before becoming pregnant and after conception (6).

Many types of natural disasters are coupled with flooding events, such as hurricanes and thunderstorms. Mother’s that become exposed to the extreme weather conditions may become stressed. Water washes over the landscape and becomes mixed with chemicals, litter, and other wastes. Flooding from a major hurricane resulted in spontaneous abortions up to a year after the incidence and pesticides that have entered into drinking water, and consumed by the mother, resulted in preterm birth and low birth weight (4).

Pesticides and other organic chemicals are used to exterminate plants and insects when released onto the landscape or fed to livestock. The compounds enter the food chain when animals feed on contaminated plants, insects, and animals. The chemicals accumulate within animals as toxins pass through the food chain, such a cow devouring treated grasses. Human consume toxic chemicals from the food they eat. Your child is at risk to the toxins when the chemicals have been found to pass through the placental membrane (5). Scientific inquiry shows that when the presences of pesticides and organic chemicals are found in mothers then the result may have negative impacts on fetal growth (4).

The state of the built environmental has been linked to negative reproductive outcomes. A mother that is exposed to unstable conditions may become stressed or is unable to create a healthy lifestyle pattern. Conditions found in and around homes and property; vacancy rates and ownership status; and criminal activities and troubling situations have a direct relationship on preterm birth and low birth weight. The greatest impact occurs with damage found in the housing aspect of your neighborhood.

The mother’s behavior does have a direct relationship on negative outcomes with her reproductive success. Smoking, alcohol consumption, and drugs offers the opportunity to experience a miscarriage, preterm birth, and low birth weight (4). You may prevent impacts on your unborn child by being involved in quality behavior choices and maintaining a healthy blood pressure level. You do have the freedom to make quality choices knowing that the conditions found in your neighborhood may influence negative behavior (2). The situations found in your neighborhood has been found to create stress, unhealthy weight gain, and influence you to partake in smoking (1).

Healthy food choices while pregnant will provide you with a sense of comfort that you are doing a great job while carrying your unborn child. Work with professionals to determine an acceptable amount of weight gain while pregnant. A complex cause-and-effect relationship between weight gain during pregnancy coupled with exposure to environmental pollutants has been found to impact the growth the unborn child (5). The survival of your infant may be directly related to your diet (4).  

If you must remain in an urban environment then used plants to improve the conditions for you and your child. When a mother’s home is surrounded by the presence of green, living super forces then there is a greater chance of giving birth to a newborn baby with a higher birth weight (4). Plants have the ability to purify the air, remove pollutants from water, and provide you with an experience that improves well-being. The outcome may be connected to improved air quality, increased level of physical activity exercise, or both (1). When you live near green spaces then you tend to exercise more often, experience less stress, and are involved in more social activity. The rate of smoking among pregnant women is reduced in relation to increased physical activity (1). Physical activity coupled with good nutrition has many benefits for birth outcomes and may reduce childhood obesity (3).

There are many conditions that are found in your environment that impact the quality of your birth outcome. Toxins in your air, water, food, and landscape may enter your body and, as a result, impact your birth outcome and your child. Conditions found in your built neighborhood may impact your blood pressure, stress level, and lifestyle choices. Engaged in unhealthy behaviors directly relates to the health of the child you are harboring in your body. Lifestyle choices includes additive behaviors and the types and amount of food you consume. Consult an expert for the best weight gain strategy that fits your unique self. An excellent approach to improve your birth outcome is to engage with and live near green spaces.  

Elizabeth Armstrong, Ph.D.



1 Messer, LC, LC Vinikoor-Imler, and BA Laraia. 2012. Conceptualizing neighborhood space: consistency and variation of associations for neighborhood factors and pregnancy health across multiple neighborhood units. Health & Place. Vol. 18:4. Pgs. 805-813.

2 Miranda, Marie Lynn, Lynne C. Messer, and Gretchen L. Kroeger. 2012. Associations between the Quality of the Residential Built Environment and Pregnancy Outcomes among Women in North Carolina. Environmental Health Perspectives. Vol. 120:3. Pgs. 471-477.

3 Tennant, Giséle. 2014. Preventing Childhood Obesity by Managing Pregnancy Weight Gain. International Journal of Childbirth Education. Vol.29:2. Pgs. 41-45.

4 United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2013. Eco-Health Relationship Browser.

5 Vafeiadi, Marina, Martine Vrijheid, Eleni Fthenou, Georgia Chalkiadaki, Panu Rantakokko, Hannu Kiviranta, Soterios A. Kyrtopoulos, Leda Chatzi, and Manolis Kogevinas. 2014. Persistent organic pollutants exposure during pregnancy, maternal gestational weight gain, and birth outcomes in the mother-child cohort in Crete, Greece (RHEA study). Environmental International. Vol. 64. Pgs. 116-123.

6 Veras, Mariana Matera, Nilsa Regina Damaceno-Rodrigues, Rosane Maria Guimarães Silva, Julia Nogueira, Paulo H. Nascimento Saldiva, Elia Garcia Caldini, and Marisa Dolhnikoff. 2009. Chronic exposure to fine particulate matter emitted by traffic affects reproductive and fetal outcomes in mice. Environmental Research. Vol. 109:5. Pgs. 536-543.

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