TIME Pregnancy

The Connection Between Parks and Healthier Pregnancy

Trees can do a lot of good for your health, from lowering stress to encouraging you to spend more time outdoors exercising. But can it help expectant moms have healthier babies?

What mother-to-be doesn’t do her best to nurture her still-developing baby so he or she can be ready for the world after nine months? Eating right, exercising, and avoiding extreme amounts of stress are just some of the ways that expectant mothers can cocoon their babies in the healthiest environment possible. And now scientists say there’s another thing pregnant women can do to help their babies to emerge from the womb at a healthy weight.

Living near green spaces – parks, gardens, and even cemeteries – is associated with fewer low birth weight babies, according to a study published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine. An international group of researchers analyzed data from nearly 40,000 singleton births in Tel Aviv, Israel from 2002 to 2006 and matched the mother’s address at the time of delivery with satellite images of the landscape to assess their relative “green-ness.” Women who lived in areas with more access to parks or gardens or green spaces were less likely to have children with low birth weight, a risk factor that can contribute to respiratory conditions, intestinal disorders and bleeding in the brain as well as more long term health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, bone disorders and possibly autism.

Because greener regions tend to be associated with higher socioeconomic status and more maternal education, both factors that also affect the rate of low birth weight, the researchers also adjusted for the effect of socioeconomic status, and still found an effect of the greener environments. But they did find a stronger association between less green space and more low-birth-weight babies among those in lower socioeconomic groups, which could reflect the influence of other factors, such as less healthy behaviors in those populations and greater exposure to air pollution, stress and other environmental factors that can influence pregnancy outcomes.

So living near parks alone can’t prevent low-birth-weight babies, but the findings suggest that it couldn’t hurt. And the authors note that other studies hints at why – being near parks may encourage physical activity and promote more social interactions that can provide support to relieve stress and depression. Green spaces also tend to have lower levels of pollution and other potentially harmful environmental compounds that have been linked to poor fetal development.

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