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Pregnancy Problems

Asthma During Pregnancy

Want to know what medications are safe to take during pregnancy? Whether or not your asthma poses risks to baby? We've got answers.

What is asthma during pregnancy?

Asthma is a potentially serious lung disease. During an asthma attack, the airways become partially blocked, restricting the flow of air — and the circulation of oxygen — throughout the body. If you’ve got asthma, you’re probably wondering how it will affect your pregnancy.

What are the signs of asthma during pregnancy?

The most common signs and symptoms of asthma are wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness. A persistent cough that usually occurs at night or early in the morning (when you don’t have a cold) can also be a sign of asthma.

Are there any tests for asthma during pregnancy?

You bet. If your doctor suspects asthma (or if you have a history of the disease), he’ll want to perform a lung function test, which measures how much air you can blow out of your lungs. You just exhale into a specially designed plastic tool, and you get the results immediately. If the number you blow is low, your airway is probably restricted. This number can be measured and tracked over time to see how well you’re managing your asthma.

How common is asthma during pregnancy?

About 4 to 8 percent of pregnant women have asthma.

How did I get asthma?

Asthma tends to be hereditary. So if your mom and grandpa had asthma, you were probably born with a tendency toward the disease. Exposure to certain viral infections or airborne allergens in early childhood may have led to asthma.

How will my asthma affect my baby?

Don’t worry — as long as you manage your asthma well during pregnancy, the odds are your baby will be born healthy. But if your asthma is poorly controlled, your baby is more likely to have low birth weight and/or be born too soon.

“The thing that’s really, really important and crucial in pregnancy is to be sure that the baby is getting enough oxygen,” says Rebecca Kolp, MD, an ob-gyn at Massachusetts General Hospital West. If you’re not getting enough oxygen, your baby isn’t getting enough oxygen, so asthma control is particularly important for mamas-to-be (see next page for details on safe asthma treatment during pregnancy).

What’s the best way to treat asthma during pregnancy?

Stay on your meds! You might be worried about taking medication during pregnancy, but asthma is one of those cases where the risk of taking the med is far lower than the risk of not taking the med.

“If you’re having an asthma attack and you don’t use medication, that limits the amount of oxygen to the baby,” Kolp says. “It’s far more important to treat or prevent an attack than to worry about the risk of the medications.”
So work closely with your doc to develop (or tweak) your asthma control plan. Depending on the severity of your asthma, your ob-gyn may work with your pulmonologist or call in a maternal-fetal medicine specialist to help handle your case.

What can I do to prevent asthma attacks?

Stay away from your asthma triggers. Allergies are a common trigger, so if allergies are a problem for you, take steps to reduce your exposure to whatever it is you’re allergic to. That might mean closing your windows, avoiding pollen and pets, washing your bedding in hot water to kill dust mites and using a filtered vacuum.

What do other pregnant moms do when they have asthma?

“My doctor said that one-third of women see a decrease of asthma symptoms, one-third have symptoms that stay the same...and one-third have asthma symptoms that get worse. So far, I seem to be in the third whose symptoms actually improve while pregnant.”

“My doc prescribed a different albuterol inhaler. He also prescribed Pulmicort, but said only to use it if I was having lots of attacks.”

“I've had asthma my entire life and am currently taking Flovent daily and ProAir (albuterol) as my rescue inhaler. I'm trying to use the ProAir less since it does act as a stimulant, and I’ve found that sitting in the bathroom while running a steaming shower can help. I practice deep breathing while I'm in there (in through the nose, out through the mouth), and it helps if I tilt my head back very slightly.”

Are there any other resources for asthma?

American Lung Association

Plus, more from The Bump:

What medications are safe to take during pregnancy?

By Rebecca Kolp, MD, ob-gyn and medical director at Massachusetts General Hospital West