Breathing Easy: Asthma and Pregnancy

Ghada Bourjeily, M.D.

With pregnancy comes a heightened anxiety regarding a woman’s chronic health issues such as asthma.

The fact is -- barring other complications -- most women with asthma have normal pregnancies and healthy newborns.

For Asthma Awareness Month, here are answers to some common questions involving asthma and pregnancy:

I have had asthma since I was a child. Should I expect a difficult pregnancy?

Women with asthma can definitely tolerate pregnancy well. It is important for pregnant women with asthma to follow up with their providers on a regular basis to monitor asthma control and medication usage.

Your obstetric provider or a specialist familiar with pregnancy and asthma can answer your questions.

I have asthma and use daily medications to control my asthma. Should I stop my medications if pregnant?

Asthma control is important in pregnancy. Do not stop your medications before checking with your doctor. Most asthma medications are safe to use in pregnancy, however, it is important to check with a provider who is familiar with asthma in pregnancy. A physician may recommend safer drugs.  

A healthy baby needs a healthy mom. If your asthma is not controlled then your baby might not be healthy either. Poorly-controlled asthma could actually have worse effects on the baby than the medication. In many cases, it is better for s baby to be exposed to medication than to a mom’s untreated condition.

Is my difficulty breathing related to my asthma or the pregnancy?

It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between symptoms of asthma and normal pregnancy symptoms. About half of all pregnant women have some breathing difficulty symptoms at some point during pregnancy. In many, but not all, cases these are normal symptoms. However, when a woman has a lung or a heart condition, it becomes more difficult to tell when symptoms are related to the condition itself or the pregnancy.  Again, a provider who is experienced and specializes in both pregnancy and medical conditions can help differentiate between the symptoms. 

How can the cause of breathing difficulties be determined?

In some cases, further testing may be recommended, such as a breathing test, a peak flow meter, or a chest radiograph. Physical examination can also give some clues as to the cause of the breathing difficulty and can help your doctor decide on the best way to proceed to minimize the risk to you and your baby.

While asthma shouldn’t stop you from having a baby, it’s important to take steps to keep you and baby well!