Susceptible windows of exposure to fine particulate matter and fetal growth trajectories in the Spanish INMA (INfancia y Medio Ambiente) birth cohort

Environ Res. 2023 Jan 1;216(Pt 2):114628. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2022.114628. Epub 2022 Oct 21.


While prior studies report associations between fine particulate matter (PM2.5) exposure and fetal growth, few have explored temporally refined susceptible windows of exposure. We included 2328 women from the Spanish INMA Project from 2003 to 2008. Longitudinal growth curves were constructed for each fetus using ultrasounds from 12, 20, and 34 gestational weeks. Z-scores representing growth trajectories of biparietal diameter, femur length, abdominal circumference (AC), and estimated fetal weight (EFW) during early (0-12 weeks), mid- (12-20 weeks), and late (20-34 weeks) pregnancy were calculated. A spatio-temporal random forest model with back-extrapolation provided weekly PM2.5 exposure estimates for each woman during her pregnancy. Distributed lag non-linear models were implemented within the Bayesian hierarchical framework to identify susceptible windows of exposure for each outcome and cumulative effects [βcum, 95% credible interval (CrI)] were aggregated across adjacent weeks. For comparison, general linear models evaluated associations between PM2.5 averaged across multi-week periods (i.e., weeks 1-11, 12-19, and 20-33) and fetal growth, mutually adjusted for exposure during each period. Results are presented as %change in z-scores per 5 μg/m3 in PM2.5, adjusted for covariates. Weeks 1-6 [βcum = -0.77%, 95%CrI (-1.07%, -0.47%)] were identified as a susceptible window of exposure for reduced late pregnancy EFW while weeks 29-33 were positively associated with this outcome [βcum = 0.42%, 95%CrI (0.20%, 0.64%)]. A similar pattern was observed for AC in late pregnancy. In linear regression models, PM2.5 exposure averaged across weeks 1-11 was associated with reduced late pregnancy EFW and AC; but, positive associations between PM2.5 and EFW or AC trajectories in late pregnancy were not observed. PM2.5 exposures during specific weeks may affect fetal growth differentially across pregnancy and such associations may be missed by averaging exposure across multi-week periods, highlighting the importance of temporally refined exposure estimates when studying the associations of air pollution with fetal growth.

Keywords: Air pollution; Fetal growth; PM(2.5); Susceptible windows.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants* / analysis
  • Air Pollutants* / toxicity
  • Air Pollution* / adverse effects
  • Air Pollution* / analysis
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Birth Cohort
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Fetal Development
  • Fetal Weight
  • Humans
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects
  • Particulate Matter / analysis
  • Particulate Matter / toxicity
  • Pregnancy


  • Particulate Matter
  • Air Pollutants