According to March of Dimes, asthma affects 4 percent to 8 percent of pregnancies. When unmanaged, this inflammatory disease of the airways makes breathing difficult and can reduce the amount of oxygen in the blood for the birthing parent and their developing baby.
If you’re pregnant and impacted by asthma (or just care about someone who is), you may have a lot of questions. While it’s important to talk with your healthcare professional about your specific concerns, we’ve gathered some basic information to help you feel prepared for those conversations.
Having an asthma attack reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, which can mean that your growing baby won’t get the oxygen they need.
The most common pregnancy complications from asthma are:
- a slightly increased chance of preterm labor and delivery
- high blood pressure and the related condition preeclampsia
- low birth weight
Managing asthma can ensure that your baby always has sufficient oxygen, decreasing the chance of complications, especially severe ones like stillbirth.
Being pregnant can make your asthma better or worse. The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology says that in about one-third of pregnancies affected by asthma, the asthma improves. In another third, asthma worsens, and in the final third, there is no noticeable change in their asthma during pregnancy.
While it’s difficult to predict how your asthma will change during pregnancy, you may experience the same type of changes in future pregnancies.
If your asthma does get worse, don’t fear. The majority of people with changes during pregnancy see their asthma return to prepregnancy levels by about 3 months postpartum.
Your healthcare professional will check in about your asthma during prenatal visits and monitor your lungs.
If you’ve been taking medications before pregnancy to help manage your asthma, talk with your doctor about them. They may need to adjust your asthma medications and dosage levels.
Getting the flu can increase the chance of asthma problems during pregnancy. Since flu shots are recommended during pregnancy, you may not experience this. Check with your healthcare professional. Also, talk with your doctor if you take allergy shots to help manage your asthma.
- sleeping in a more elevated position
- eating smaller meals
- not lying down immediately after eating
You can also speak with your doctor about various medications that can help with heartburn if it is a frequent problem.
If you have a difficult time managing your asthma or experience an asthma attack during pregnancy, your healthcare professional will probably want to do additional ultrasounds to check the baby’s growth. They may also ask you to track how much fetal movement you feel.
March of Dimes says that only about 10 percent of pregnancies affected by asthma involve asthma symptoms during labor and delivery.
If you take asthma medication during pregnancy, continue to take it during labor and delivery unless otherwise instructed.
Earlier in your pregnancy, you may want to discuss a care plan for any asthma symptoms you may have during labor and delivery.
Symptoms of asthma may include:
Restricted airways mean that you’ll have trouble getting deep breaths when asthma hits. You may feel tired and faint as less oxygen circulates through your body. You may also feel your anxiety levels rising.
Questions for your doctor or healthcare professional
- Are there any additional tests/procedures you would recommend based on my asthma?
- Are the medications I’m currently taking safe? Would you recommend different medications or dosages?
- Are there things you would suggest doing to reduce the chance of my asthma during pregnancy?
- What will happen if I have an asthma attack during labor and delivery?
If your asthma is already managed with medications, chances are, treatment for it will continue to look similar during pregnancy.
Your doctor may advise an inhaled medication where smaller amounts enter the bloodstream. They might also try to minimize the amount of medication you’re taking — especially during the first trimester when many of the baby’s organs are developing.
Asthma can be triggered by many things including:
- allergens (pollen, nuts, etc.)
- irritants (dust, mold, etc.)
- strong emotions
If you smoke, it’s recommended that you quit, especially while pregnant.
Even if you’re taking medication to manage asthma, it’s a good idea to avoid any of your asthma triggers.
If you manage your asthma during your pregnancy, chances are good that you’ll experience a fairly healthy pregnancy and delivery.
The risks are higher if your asthma is unmanaged. If this is the case, you can expect more monitoring from your doctor during your pregnancy, labor, and delivery.
If you have asthma, it’s important to make sure that you manage the condition as best you can. Because asthma can get better, worse, or stay the same during pregnancy, your healthcare professional will monitor your asthma during your prenatal appointments.
It’s important that your blood has sufficient oxygen for you and your growing baby, so if you take medications to manage your asthma, continue taking them as your doctor prescribes.