Asthma and Pregnancy 

Pregnant woman in exam room talking to healthcare provider.

Having asthma does not necessarily mean having a complicated pregnancy. With proper management of asthma and the right care during the pregnancy, most women with asthma can have a healthy pregnancy.

Asthma is one of the most common health problems that can complicate a pregnancy. In some cases, a diagnosis of asthma is not made until a woman becomes pregnant. Asthma affects a woman during pregnancy in a variety of ways:

  • More than 1 in 3 women have no change in their asthma symptoms.

  • More than 1 in 3 pregnant women have more severe asthma symptoms.

  • Fewer than 1 in 3 pregnant women have improved asthma symptoms.

  • Symptoms may get worse as a woman gains weight during pregnancy.

Treating asthma the right way during pregnancy is important. Uncontrolled asthma can lead to the mother getting less oxygen. That, in turn, affects the fetus.

Uncontrolled asthma can lead to any of the complications listed below.

Possible complications for the mother

When not controlled, asthma can put extra stress on the mother, as well as on the fetus. Lack of oxygen will not only affect the mother, but also the fetus. Other complications from uncontrolled asthma for the mother are:

  • Preeclampsia (toxemia in pregnancy). This is a health problem of pregnancy marked by raised blood pressure, water retention, and protein in the urine.

  • Bleeding in pregnancy or hemorrhage after giving birth

  • Anemia

  • Depression

  • Higher rate of C-section

  • Giving birth too early (preterm birth)

  • Pulmonary embolism. This is when a blood clot forms and travels to the lung. It is potentially life threatening.

Possible complications for the fetus

Lack of oxygen to the fetus from the mother can lead to many health problems in the fetus:

  • Perinatal mortality

  • Intrauterine growth retardation. This is poor fetal growth in the womb. It causes the fetus to be smaller than normal for its gestational age.

  • Preterm birth

  • Low birthweight

  • Neonatal hypoxia. This is when the fetus does not get enough oxygen.

Are asthma medicines safe to use during pregnancy?

Most asthma medicines are not harmful to the fetus or to the nursing baby. In fact, uncontrolled asthma may actually put the mother and fetus at far greater risk than the medicine used to control asthma. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis. He or she can develop an asthma treatment plan tailored to your symptoms.

How can a pregnant woman lower the chance of having an asthma attack?

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises a pregnant woman to take these steps to lower the risk of having an asthma attack during her pregnancy:

  • Stay away from asthma triggers, including tobacco smoke and other irritants.

  • Use asthma medicines throughout the pregnancy, labor, and birth, as advised by your healthcare provider.

  • Exercise with moderation. Use medicine properly if you have exercise-induced asthma and talk with your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program.

  • Make sure to get a flu shot, if you will be in your second or third trimester of pregnancy during the flu (fall-winter) season.

When should a pregnant woman with asthma seek emergency medical treatment?

Even with a proper asthma management plan in place, a pregnant woman should know about certain warning signs that may point to an asthma attack, such as:

  • Current medicine does not give rapid improvement of symptoms.

  • Improvement from medicines does not last as long as it had before.

  • Breathing becomes harder.

  • Fetal kick count decreases. This may indicate fetal distress.

Always talk with your healthcare provider about what asthma attack warning signs to look for and when to seek emergency care.