If you’re pregnant, you have a lot on your mind — foods to avoid, weight gain and picking a pediatrician, for starters. Now comes research that adds another worry: The very air you breathe may negatively affect your child’s behavior, as well as up the risk of having a preemie.

A study from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health finds kids whose moms were exposed to the air pollutant PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon) during pregnancy are more likely to have problems regulating their behavior and getting along with others.

Related: Air Pollution Kills More Than 3 Million People a Year, Study Finds

The researchers suggest prenatal exposure to PAH damages neural circuits that direct emotional responses. As a result, children with poor self-regulation skills have difficulty managing disruptive thoughts, emotions and impulses, the authors note.

"This study indicates that prenatal exposure to air pollution … may underlie the development of many childhood psychopathologies that derive from deficits in self-regulation, such as ADHD, OCD, substance use disorders, and eating disorders," said lead investigator Amy Margolis, PhD, assistant professor of medical psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center and New York State Psychiatric Institute.

You may be wondering how you can avoid PAH. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to escape these pollutants completely. They’re everywhere fuel is burned — car emissions, home heating systems, power generation, tobacco smoke and even charred food. But you can reduce your exposure in your home, according to the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, with these steps:

  • Don’t smoke, and don’t let others smoke near you or your children.
  • Don’t char or blacken your food.
  • Use a fan when you’re cooking in the kitchen.
  • Don’t burn candles or incense in your home.
  • Join efforts in your community to clean up the air.

For more ways to clean your indoor air, follow these tips from UL, a global independent safety science company.

Related: Clearing the Air: 3 Dangerous Pollutants in Your Home

A tie to premature births

A number of recent studies have found pregnant women who breathe polluted air have a higher risk of delivering prematurely than women who breathe cleaner air.

Women who were exposed to fine-particle pollution that surpassed Environment Protection Agency standards had a 19 percent higher chance of premature birth, one study from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center found.

The consequences of this association may be costing the United States more than $4 billion a year, according to a new study from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

That cost includes the child’s medical costs, both immediate ones and the long-term costs of caring for disabilities caused by preterm birth, according to Leonardo Trasande, MD, lead researcher and an associate professor at NYU Langone Medical Center. But the dollar figure does not include all potential costs, such as effects on mothers' health. "So $4.3 billion is probably an underestimate," Trasande told HealthDay.

Related: Can Houseplants Really Clean the Air?

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Angela is a Pulitzer Prize-winning digital editor with more than 15 years of experience delivering news and information to audiences worldwide. Prior to joining SafeBee, she was the features editor for Boston.com at The Boston Globe, overseeing health, travel, entertainment, business and lifestyle coverage. Before moving to features, she was the news and homepage editor, covering stories such as the Boston Marathon bombing, Red Sox World Series victories, presidential elections, a papal inauguration, and more. Her favorite safety tip: Clean your phone! The average cell phone has 18 times more germs than the toilet handle in a men’s restroom.