By Stephanie Stahl

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A new study is the first to show that breathing polluted air during pregnancy may affect a child’s long-term heart health.

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In most American cities, including Philadelphia, air pollution from cars and factories is a fact of life.

Now, a new study raises a red flag for pregnant women: higher levels of pollution can pose a health threat even inside the womb.

Researchers looked at nearly 1,300 mothers and their babies from the Boston area. They measured the children’s’ blood pressure at each doctor’s appointment from the age of three to nine.

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“What we found was that air pollution exposure during the third trimester, in particular, was associated with higher blood pressure in children,” said Dr. Noel Mueller with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Babies exposed to higher air pollution in the final trimester were in fact 61 percent more likely to have elevated blood pressure.

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The problem doesn’t end with childhood. Doctors say it can last a lifetime.

“We know that blood pressure tracks through life. Children who have elevated blood pressure in childhood have a higher probability of having hypertension later in life and cardiovascular diseases,” said Mueller.

The study in the American Heart Association’s Journal Hypertension does not suggest women uproot to less polluted areas but that they take sensible precautions.

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“If they are exercising during the third trimester of pregnancy they may want to consider not exercising outside in highly polluted areas,” Mueller said.

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Previous studies have shown air pollution in the third trimester may lead to faster weight gain for babies. Researchers think that might be a factor in developing elevated blood pressure.

Stephanie Stahl