Expecting mothers and infants are especially sensitive to changes in the air, and poor air quality can result in many unwanted problems for a newborn. Worse, some of these issues can cause life-long congenital disorders which can affect the child throughout life, or in the worst-case scenario result in the death of the newborn.
It is of utmost importance that medical facilities, such as a maternity clinic, provide good indoor air quality to safeguard the health of its staff and patients. However, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 1.4 million people across the globe suffer from nosocomial or Hospital Acquired Infections.
The Health Impact of Poor Indoor Air Quality to Infants
A study showed that higher counts of bacteria can be found in the neonatal and post-operative ward. The researchers noted that finding high counts of bacteria were influenced by the ventilation provided by the medical facilities.
Aside from biological pollutants, some toxic chemicals can also be harmful to the health of infants.
The three most dangerous pollutants for a newborn are particulate matter (PM10), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2). The risk for neonatal infant death increases by 11%, 12% and 15% for each pollutant respective when the mother and newborn are exposed to the three contaminants. Furthermore, exposure of the mother during the term to NO2 can cause congenital defects in the child’s aorta, resulting in a weak heart. Other complications include asthma, autism, and low birth weight.
Managing these pollutants is key to ensuring that mothers and their newborns inside medical facilities are safe and free from the health risks associated with poor indoor air quality.
Here are the steps you should take to ensure your patients and your staff’s safety:
Monitor the Air
The first line of defense is awareness. Air quality sensors that monitor the air in the clinic continuously are the first step to assuring that there are no problems. Modern sensors are smart and can send alerts to your phone or desktop in real-time, so any potential threats can be nipped in the bud. Some air monitoring sensors can even operate SmartHome devices like an HVAC system to automatically ventilate the contaminants out of the room. The point is, knowing when there’s a problem let you take steps to solve the problem.
Get Air-Purifying Plants
You can’t underestimate the efficacy of mother nature. There are many decorative plants that don’t just make your clinic look and feel better, they actually clean the air. The snake plant or “Mother-in-Law’s Tongue” is good for reducing VOCs from the air, such as benzene, which is used to create ingredients in plastics, resins, and synthetic fibers. Benzene can off-gas from these materials and affect the clinic’s indoor air quality. Another useful plant that you can use to create a healthier and more beautiful environment is English Ivy. It’s good for reducing particulate matter, a pollutant that can enter the bloodstream and cause health issues especially for developing children.
Install an Exhaust Fan
If you don’t have a fancy HVAC system, having an exhaust fan can really reduce the level of dangerous pollutants in the air. This is especially helpful for reducing any nitrogen dioxide buildup in the clinic.
Maintain Your HVAC System
A poorly maintained HVAC system can have detrimental effects on your clinic’s indoor air quality. It contributes to Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) which is a situation where occupants get sick in direct proportion to the time spent indoors. When air filters are not replaced or air ducts are not regularly cleaned, dust can accumulate and it can be a breeding ground for bacteria and pests.
Check for Toxic Gas Build-Up
While it’s unlikely that you have a build-up of sulfur dioxide in your clinic, it can be possible if you are using kerosene heaters. These things reduce oxygen levels inside your clinic with improper ventilation and increase the possibility of asphyxiation. Aside from that, Carbon Monoxide can also be a big problem. It’s an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas that is very harmful to patients and hospital workers.
Dust is one of the big drivers for particulate matter, along with other issues like mold. They can both be avoided through proper cleaning. Wiping away dust so it doesn’t build up can greatly reduce particulate matter in the air. Your choice of furniture also counts, as the paints and plastics used in some kinds of furniture need to be aired to reduce VOCs, while furniture with lots of cloth and linen are dust traps. Wipe away dust, avoid excessive moisture to reduce mold, and choose furnishings that don’t trap dust.
Avoid Toxic Plastics
Some plastics emit phthalates, an ingredient that can affect hormone production and cause damage to the lungs and kidneys. It can be inhaled or be absorbed through the skin. Common sources of phthalates are disposable gloves, bottles, storage, cleaning chemicals, and more. When it comes to choosing materials to be used in your clinic, it’s important to check for the presence of phthalates.
Avoid Using Regular Wipes
Not many people are aware of the toxic chemicals used in cleaning wipes. The ones that you regularly use in your clinic may contain formaldehyde or formaldehyde-releasing chemicals that can cause cancer or damage to the nervous system. Moreover, cleaning wipes with fragrances can contain phthalates, a popular compound that disrupts hormones in the body. Aside from ruining your indoor air quality, regular cleaning wipes can also damage your sensitive ultrasound equipment. These wipes may look innocent but it’s something you should avoid for your maternity clinic at all costs. It is best to use a medical-grade disinfectant wipes that will not damage the equipment but will provide a high level of disinfection.
Lessen The Use of Aerosols Disinfectant
Aerosols are commonly used in many clinics or hospitals due to its efficacy and ease of use. However, it can be a source of Volatile Organic Compounds which can adversely affect health by causing irritations or triggering allergic reactions. Higher concentrations of VOCs can even cause damage to the central nervous system.
Use Paints that are VOC-Free
Many people are not aware that paints can be as dangerous as toxic plastics. Many paints manufactured before (and even today) emits a high-level of VOCs. It off-gases this dangerous compound many years after it has been painted. Your walls may look innocent but it can be the source of your air quality problems.
Maintaining Good Indoor Air Quality Is Critical For Health
Providing the best care is the ultimate goal of any medical facility. However, due to the countless problems clinics face on a regular basis, good indoor air quality can be at the bottom of the list. It’s essential that clinics start working on these serious issues to protect the mothers and their children who come to them every single day.
The solution is simple. It starts with educating yourself and paying attention to the little details. Many of the tips here can be easily done with your current staff or hiring professionals that can quickly do it for you. With a little knowledge and foresight, you can transform any clinic into a mother and infant-safe zone.