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Asthma and Pregnancy

It's important to keep asthma under control, especially during pregnancy. Learn why, and get tips about keeping triggers and attacks at bay.

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Asthma is one of the most common conditions that can cause complications in pregnancy. But women who have asthma can have healthy pregnancies. Some women may even see their symptoms improve while pregnant. Others find that their asthma gets worse, especially if they also suffer from heartburn or reflux.

If you're pregnant and have asthma, tell your doctor about your treatment concerns. All pregnant women with asthma can cut the risks to their unborn babies by keeping their condition well controlled with medicine.

Understanding the risks

Uncontrolled asthma lowers the amount of oxygen in the mother's blood. The fetus relies on this oxygen to survive, so a decrease can cause low birth weight and other growth problems. Other possible complications include preeclampsia, low birth weight infants and preterm birth. The more severe and uncontrolled the mother's asthma, the greater the risk there is to mother and baby.

Continuing treatment

Let your doctor know right away if you have asthma and become pregnant — or if you are trying to get pregnant. You may want to avoid taking certain medications while pregnant, but most drugs used to treat asthma are known to be safe during pregnancy. The risks to mother and baby are much greater if the mother has a severe asthma attack from not taking her medicine as directed. Your doctor will determine which medications are best for you. Never stop taking any of your asthma medicines unless your doctor tells you to do so.

If you get allergy shots, you can usually keep taking them during pregnancy. New treatment, though, is not often started during pregnancy. If you develop a severe allergic reaction to a new treatment, both you and your fetus could be at risk for serious harm. Ask your allergist for more information.

Also, tell your obstetrician (OB) about your asthma and the medicines you take. He or she will want to know at each checkup how well your asthma is being controlled. You may need monthly evaluations to check lung function because the course of asthma changes for about two thirds of women during pregnancy. Your medical team should include both the doctor taking care of your pregnancy and the one taking care of your asthma.

Depending on the severity of your asthma, your OB may also want to do special tests to keep an eye on fetal development. These may include more frequent checkups and possibly biophysical profile ultrasounds to check the health of the baby. These extra checks can help put your mind at ease.

Avoiding triggers

One way to better manage your asthma is to avoid the things that cause a flare-up. It may be helpful to keep a log of your symptoms each day and note any triggers. Things that didn't bother you before may cause problems now, like some seasonal allergens. Or you may find that it's harder to keep your surroundings free of dust and dander. Enlist the help of someone who can do the dusting and cleaning if it makes your asthma symptoms worse, or if you find it too taxing to do while pregnant.

What to do if you have a flare-up

Talk to your doctor about how to handle an asthma attack if one should strike. Make sure you always have your prescribed asthma medications handy for an emergency. Call 911 if needed, for trouble breathing. Also call if the baby stops moving or has decreased movement. This may mean that the baby is in distress. Prompt treatment is crucial to protect your health and the health of your baby.

By Amanda Genge, Conributing Writer

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. National Institutes of Health. NAEPP expert panel report 3: Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of asthma. Accessed: June 8, 2016.
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Tips to remember: Asthma, allergies and pregnancy. Accessed: June 8, 2016.
American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Pregnancy and asthma. Accessed: June 8, 2016.
UpToDate. Management of asthma during pregnancy. Accessed: June 8, 2016.

Last Updated: June 16, 2016