This article has been written by Rakhi Prince pursuing a Training program on Using AI for Business Growth from Skill Arbitrage.

This article has been edited and published by Shashwat Kaushik.


A newborn is not just a miniature, but a human being with all five senses, developing and adapting according to the surroundings in which it is. Thus, it is important to have optimum knowledge of the environment in which the baby is growing, along with the positive and negative impact it may have on the newborn’s health.

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A newborn’s health is not only concerned after it is born but also from the beginning of conception in the mother’s womb. So, it has a great relationship with maternal health and lifestyle during pregnancy. The optimum health of a newborn depends solely on the environmental factors the mother is exposed to.

The first 28 days of life are called the neonatal period, which is very crucial. Researchers and experts in the field of child health science are focused on enhancing a safe pregnancy period as well as a safe neonatal period. There is an important collaborative role played by neonatologists, nurses, healthcare workers, and family members to achieve this goal.

What are the environmental factors

Environmental factors can be broadly classified as:

Intrauterine factors: When the baby is developing in the womb

The concerned maternal or intrauterine factors that impact a baby’s health are sub-divided into the following aspects:

Maternal diet and lifestyle

An unbalanced diet of a pregnant woman, improper nutrition, lack of exercise, as well as a few lifestyle factors such as cigarette smoking, illicit drug use, and alcohol and caffeine consumption can negatively influence a baby’s growth and impact its health.

Diet of a pregnant woman

AK Lectures explain a pregnant woman’s diet and lifestyle and their impact on the growing baby in the womb (foetus). Healthy eating habits include fresh greens, vegetables, and fruits. The recommended amount of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats, along with a balanced diet, needed to be included in the mother’s diet. During the first three months of pregnancy, folic acid deficiency may cause brain and neuromotor deformities. Likewise, calcium is essential for foetal bone and muscle growth. These supplements can also be taken externally as tablets and capsules with the prescription of the attending doctor.  Malnutrition (an imbalanced diet lacking essential nutrients) can lead to mental abnormalities and learning disabilities in children. Vitamin insufficiency can lead to serious damage to the central nervous system  Though vitamins A, D, E, and K are necessary; excess amounts can lead to toxicity. Too much trans fat and fast processed food can lead to digestive problems and adversely affect a baby’s health. Water intake also remains the highest priority.

When foetal development is in a resource-poor environment, it may lead to a common growth pattern known as ‘catch-up growth‘. This pattern involves limited foetal growth, followed by accelerated or fast growth after birth. While often considered a healthy process, it may raise the risk of metabolic issues like diabetes and obesity. However, if there is a mismatch with a protein and calorie-rich postnatal environment, this can also result in complications due to this imbalance. So, it’s more of a choice to take care during pregnancy rather than struggle with the baby’s digestive system.

Lifestyle of a pregnant woman

A pregnant woman must remain active during her pregnancy unless there is any medical condition necessitating bed rest. Stretching exercises, pregnancy Yoga, and other activities are considered beneficial for proper blood circulation to the mother and help in sufficient oxygen supply to the baby. Smoking decreases the amount of oxygen and increases the level of carbon monoxide, which can eventually lead to foetal abnormalities, lower body weight, spontaneous abortions, stillbirth, and mental retardation. Alcohol consumption, on the other hand, may lead to Hyperactivity disorders, learning disabilities, structural anomalies, and low birth weight. Thus, it is advisable to refrain from smoking and limit alcohol intake during pregnancy.

Maternal mental health

Various studies on the emotional relationship between mother and child suggest that not only the food a mother takes but also her emotional and mental health define the behaviour pattern in the child. Stress, anxiety, depression, and even excessive crying in pregnant mothers can adversely impact the growing baby in the womb. It can also have a long-term impact in later life. Though depression is a subjective and psychological experience, it can also affect biological levels that can alter the in-utero environment of the baby. Emotions serve an adaptive role by influencing the strategies for survival in parenting and development. Positive experiences, such as gentle touches, soothing voices, a well-fed state, singing hymns, mother’s voice or even story reading, and calming lullabies, are believed to be perceived by the baby and develop a healthy mental state. On the other hand, experiences that pose a threat to survival, like hunger, prolonged waits for attention, lack of maternal affection, violent behaviour, and stress or overstimulation, are likely to be perceived as negative. In response to such negative experiences, the baby can exhibit distress or withdrawal. 

Maternal medical conditions and infections

The medical conditions or diseases in a pregnant woman that can affect a child’s health include psychiatric-neurologic disorders, gestational diabetes, asthma, and related lung problems that can alter oxygen intake, sleep-related breathing disorders, and anaemia. The child may be born hypoglycemic and have macrosomia if the mother is diabetic. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment can save both the mother and the child.

Infections in pregnant mothers can be life-threatening. Early detection and management are necessary if the mother shows any signs of infection. A list of infections to be cautious of includes toxoplasmosis, HIV/AIDS, chlamydia, hepatitis, HBV symptoms and related conditions, and genital herpes. Screening and vaccination can shield the baby from adverse effects like preterm or early labour and premature rupture of membranes that can result from these infections.

Exposure to radiation and chemicals

Prenatal radiation exposure occurs when a pregnant woman’s abdomen is exposed to external radiation or if she accidentally ingests or inhales radioactive materials. These harmful materials can then reach the baby through the bloodstream or accumulate near the womb. The severity of health effects on the developing baby depends on gestational age and radiation levels. Foetuses are most sensitive between weeks 2 and 18 of pregnancy, with potential consequences such as stunted growth, deformities, abnormal brain function, or later-life cancer. Even though the mother protects the baby; it remains vulnerable. For this reason, minimal radiation exposure is emphasised during pregnancy. 

Chemicals are present in our surroundings, which include everything from household items and pet care products to the air we inhale. Pregnant women should avoid specific hazards like the chemicals that can be consumed through harmful plastics and bacteria found in uncooked meat and unpasteurized milk. Studies say that a small amount of lead in cosmetics can also cause skin problems. Read 6 in-home toxins to avoid during pregnancy.

A schematic diagram of putative mechanisms linking the suboptimal early life environment to later adverse metabolic and reproductive outcomes. HPA = hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal; PCOS = polycystic ovary syndrome. Colour figure can be viewed here 

Extrauterine environment – the baby is born

The extrauterine environment comprises all the physical stressors a newborn is exposed to. The environmental stressors can be:

Climate and temperature

Infants have a body surface three times larger than adults relative to their weight, making them lose heat up to four times faster. Premature and low-birthweight babies, lacking body fat and temperature regulation, struggle in warm environments. Even healthy newborns may face challenges maintaining body temperature in cold conditions. Maintaining infants at ideal temperatures, and avoiding extremes of heat or cold enables them to save energy and accumulate reserves. This is particularly crucial during periods of illness or prematurity. Parents should be taught, particularly how to keep a baby warm.

Physical facility

Medical facilities for newborns are available for the first few hours of life. It includes temperature regulation, early mother and child bonding, initiating breastfeeding, and hygiene for mother and child in a sterile environment. Once the mother and the baby are discharged from the hospital, the home’s physical environment counts a lot.

A newborn should be kept in a warm environment with enough clothing; not too tight, nor too loose. A fixed routine should be established for baths and hygiene. Baby items should be stored separately, not mixed with adult items or with other children’s things if other kids are there. Overcrowding should be avoided. Proper ventilation and light should be there. All these impact the growth and sensory motor development of the child. Height of the baby cot, type of mattress, and presence of toys—everything should ensure proper safety from falls or injuries that may lead to other complications.

Pollution and irritants

The developmental stage of a newborn’s respiratory system makes them vulnerable to the effects of indoor air pollution. Infants breathe more air per body weight compared to adults, potentially leading to higher doses of exposure to irritants and pollution. Poor indoor air quality during this critical period may have detrimental impacts on the health of newborns. Since newborns predominantly spend a significant amount of their time indoors, safeguarding them from indoor air pollution is crucial. 

Various sources that contribute to indoor air pollution in the home include solvents from activities such as cigarette smoking and cleaning, emissions from building materials and paint, dust, and allergens, fumes from cooking, as well as materials like plastics and carpets.  The potential health consequences may be short-term or long-term illnesses, including asthma, behavioural disorders, learning disabilities, autism, cancer, dysfunctional immune systems, neurological impairments, and reproductive disorders. Addressing and understanding these issues is vital for promoting the well-being of a child.

Chemicals and toxins

Newborns are exposed to various toxins and hazards in household sources. The chemical or toxin can get in the child through inhaling fumes, ingesting by mouth, or absorption by skin. Even medication bottles, and tablets that the adults in the family are taking, may turn out to be poison for the child if not stored properly. It is important to know the sources of these chemicals and toxins and to know how to avoid maximum exposure and health hazards. 

Common environmental toxins and their household sources

Environmental ToxinHousehold Source(s)
BisphenolsResidues in foods
Flame retardants (polybrominated diphenyl ethers)Foam-filled sofas, household interior dust
FormaldehydeCompressed wood products
LeadPaint, plaster, household dust, exterior dirt, plumbing, tap water, imported herbs and spices, imported cosmetics, ethnic home health remedies, “take-home” occupational lead
Methyl mercuryFish and other seafood
Other metals (cadmium, mercury, and arsenic)Herbs and spices, ethnic home health remedies, well water (arsenic)
Perfluoroalkyl substancesFood, food packaging, carpeting finishes, contaminated water supplies, household dust, and deteriorating nonstick-coated cookware
PesticidesInsect sprays, cockroach killers, ant traps, rodent baits, and residues in foods
Polychlorinated and polybrominated biphenyls, dioxinFish and other seafood

Household safety, proper usage of products according to the product information, proper usage of plastic products, safe disposal of waste materials, child safety lockers with household chemicals and toxins locked in, keeping “away from children’s reach,” and others are some methods that can be followed to protect kids from toxic chemicals


A poor and unhygienic environment is a home for microorganisms and infections. As discussed above, a newborn is a vulnerable creature, the portal of entry for these microbes is far easier because of low immune response and developing organs. A breastfed baby gets immunoglobulins from breastmilk, whereas a bottle-fed baby is more susceptible to infections if proper bottle hygiene is not maintained. Immunisation is an important aspect to be strictly followed as per the government schedule (which varies from country to country) to protect children from killer diseases

A newborn can get infections like herpes, HIV, hepatitis B, group B streptococci, E. coli, Listeria, gonococci, and chlamydia during birth if the birth canal is infected. If there is a premature rupture of membranes, delaying delivery may also lead to infection. After birth, infections can come from an infected mother through direct contact, like tuberculosis, which can also be transmitted before birth. Infections can also happen through breastfeeding, such as with HIV or CMV. Additionally, infections can be acquired from family, visitors, healthcare providers, or the hospital environment, involving various organisms.

When a newborn shows signs of illness right after birth, especially those with risk factors, a range of infections, including sepsis, should be taken into consideration. For neonates displaying abnormalities like growth restriction, deafness, microcephaly, or other physical anomalies, as well as hepatosplenomegaly or neurologic abnormalities; investigations for infections such as congenital rubella, syphilis, toxoplasmosis, and cytomegalovirus (CMV) should be conducted.


To conclude, both intrauterine and extrauterine environmental factors are of paramount importance. The well-being of a newborn is not only a testament to the strength of their vitality but is intricately interwoven with the health of the mother. Thus, it becomes abundantly clear that fostering a supportive environment, both within and beyond the womb, is a collective responsibility. From the delicate stages of intrauterine development to the crucial moments after birth, every facet of the environment plays a role in shaping the newborn’s health. This journey through the impact of environmental factors on newborn health has illuminated the profound significance of prenatal and postnatal surroundings.

Hereby, it is important to acknowledge the interconnectedness of a mother and newborn child and prepare an environment that is healthy and safe for both of them. A healthy and happy mother in a healthy environment will bring out a healthy and vibrant baby to thrive in this beautiful world.



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