Asthma is a fairly common health problem during pregnancy–both for those who already had asthma and for those who develop the condition while pregnant. If you’re expecting, during an asthma attack, not only does it get harder for you to breathe, but your baby may be getting less oxygen as well. Luckily, when asthma is well controlled, there are few risks to the pregnancy. Let’s take a closer look at the effects of asthma in pregnancy and how it can be managed.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a lifelong condition that causes the airways that lead to the lungs to swell and get inflamed. When asthma symptoms suddenly get worse (or flare up), the airways tighten and become narrower, which makes it hard to breathe and causes wheezing and coughing. Asthma flare ups are also called asthma attacks or exacerbations.
Some people only have flare ups of their asthma at certain times, such as during allergy season, when they get a cold or when they exercise, while others have problems more frequently. Even though asthma is a lifelong condition, there are treatments that can help you feel and breathe better and keep your lungs healthy.
What are the risks of uncontrolled asthma during pregnancy?
Being pregnant and having asthma does come with inherent risks to both you and your baby. However, the better you and your doctor can manage your asthma, the lesser the risk.
If your asthma is not controlled, risks to your health during pregnancy may include:
- High blood pressure
- Preeclampsia, which causes high blood pressure and also can affect the placenta, kidneys, liver and brain
The risks of uncontrolled asthma for the fetus include:
- Abnormally slow growth
- Preterm birth (before 37 weeks gestation)
- Low birth weight
- Death right before or after birth
How is asthma managed during pregnancy?
To help manage your asthma during pregnancy you and your provider should come up with an asthma action plan. This plan will be to help control inflammation and prevent and control asthma attacks.
If you’re pregnant and have asthma, here are a few things to know:
- If you see more than one doctor for pregnancy and asthma care, be sure they talk with each other about your treatment.
- Your lung function will be monitored carefully throughout your pregnancy.
- After 28 weeks, your doctor may ask you to keep track of how often your baby moves (fetal movements) every day. If you notice less fetal activity during or after an asthma attack, contact your doctor or call for emergency help right away to get instructions on what to do.
- You may have ultrasounds after 32 weeks to monitor the baby's growth. Ultrasound exams can also help your doctor check on the baby after you have an asthma attack.
- Try to avoid and control asthma triggers (such as tobacco smoke or dust mites) as much as you can.
- It's important that you get vaccines to help prevent the flu (influenza) and COVID-19.
Can you manage asthma during pregnancy by treating allergies?
It’s common to have allergies, such as allergic rhinitis, along with asthma. Treating your allergies is an important aspect of managing asthma during pregnancy.
Here are a few suggestions for managing allergies and asthma in pregnancy:
- Try to avoid things that trigger your allergy symptoms (such as tobacco smoke or dust mites).
- Ask your doctor about medicines to help control allergies. Corticosteroid medicines that are sprayed in the nose are safe to use during pregnancy. The antihistamines cetirizine and loratadine are sometimes recommended.
- If you're already taking allergy shots, you may keep getting them, but starting allergy shots when you're pregnant isn't recommended.
- Talk to your doctor before using decongestants you take by mouth (oral decongestants) as there may be better treatment options.
Are asthma medicines safe during pregnancy?
If you are pregnant and have asthma, it is safer to be treated with asthma medicines than to have an asthma attack. In order words, poor control of asthma is more of a risk to your baby than your asthma medicines.
Never stop taking or reduce your medicines without talking to your doctor. You might have to wait until your pregnancy is over to make changes to your medicine. Always talk to your doctor before using any medicine while pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.