It’s hard enough to breathe at times during pregnancy, as your weight increases and your ever-expanding belly brings on shortness of breath. Add asthma into the picture and according to experts at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, and you have the potential for the “most common potentially serious medical condition to complicate pregnancy.”

In fact, asthma affects as many as 1 in 13 women in their childbearing years, but when properly managed, you can minimize the risks of asthma to your pregnancy and baby. Left untreated, asthma can trigger serious complications including high blood pressure, premature labor and maternal or fetal death.

Managing your asthma

Probably the most asked question about asthma in pregnancy is whether medications can be used to manage the disease during pregnancy. And the answer is a resounding yes according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. This is critically important because if left uncontrolled, asthma can reduce the oxygen in your blood flow to both you and your baby, especially since your developing baby needs oxygen for normal growth and development. It’s also safe to continue allergy shots during pregnancy but don’t start any new shots during the first trimester.

Your pregnancy care provider may ask you to work with a specialist during pregnancy if you struggle to keep your asthma under control. And there’s really no way to predict how asthma may affect each pregnancy you may have – in research, one third of women say their asthma improves in pregnancy, one third say it worsens and another one thord say it remains unchanged. It’s important to avoid allergy triggers that could bring on asthma symptoms during pregnancy.

What to expect

What experts have noticed is that asthma tends to get worse during the latter part of the second trimester through the early part of the third trimester. For some pregnant women with asthma, symptoms tend to improve in the final 4 weeks of pregnancy.

Many women are likely to experience a stuffy nose in pregnancy due to the hormonal changes that affect your nose and sinus passages. Higher levels of progesterone make you feel “short of breath” so your care provider may ask you to take peak flow measures during this time to determine if your symptoms are particularly asthma-related.

You should know that both expert groups say that for most women with asthma in pregnancy, the disease doesn’t affect their ability to go through a healthy and natural labor process, including using Lamaze or other breathing techniques during labor, or breastfeeding their baby at birth and beyond. Little if any of the medications taken for asthma pass through in the breastmilk to your baby.

As you progress through pregnancy make an asthma management plan with your care team to ensure the healthiest pregnancy and birth experience for both you and your baby.


Catherine Catie Chung PhD, RN, CNE, is a former nurse expert advisor to Healthy Mom&Baby in practice in Las Vegas, NV.

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