The wheeze, the cough, the panicky feeling of having your air passages tighten – asthma is no light matter. It’s considered one of the leading causes of pregnancy complications. And, now, medical professionals are showing a link between asthma and pregnancy risks such as lower birth weights and/or babies with other growth problems.
For some women, pregnancy actually reduces asthma symptoms and episodes of asthma attacks. For others, asthma symptoms or attacks are exacerbated during pregnancy, typically as the result of heartburn and/or acid reflux. Studies have shown that the more severe the mother’s asthma is, the higher the risk to her unborn baby.
Keep asthma under control during pregnancy
If you do have asthma, don’t panic! This is simply a reminder of how important it is to keep your asthma under control throughout the duration of your pregnancy.
You share a blood supply with your developing fetus and anytime the mother is deprived of oxygen, so is the baby. So, what researchers have found is that when women who don’t use medication to control their asthma during pregnancy, the baby is deprived of oxygen. This includes flare-ups in between asthma attacks, anytime mama is struggling to breathe or is wheezier than normal.
In addition to lower birth weights and growth issues, asthma has been linked to preeclampsia and preterm labor. The more uncontrolled the mother’s asthma is, the more susceptible mother and baby are to these risks.
Talk to your doctor about asthma medication
We understand the reticence to take medication while you’re pregnant. However, when it comes to asthma and pregnancy, the risk of not controlling the condition far outweighs the complications related to the medication itself.
If you’re trying to get pregnant, or just found out you’re pregnant, make sure your doctor knows. Sometimes, people live so long with asthma they don’t really think about it – and they certainly don’t associate it with any pregnancy risks, so it can be an easy thing to leave out of the conversation with your OB. However, we want to know so we can start to discuss the best, healthiest methods to keep your asthma under control – in general, as well as through your pregnancy.
- Don’t stop taking your medications. Don’t stop taking your asthma meds because you’re pregnant. Instead, bring it up at your next (or first) prenatal visit and discuss how they’re working (or not) and to confirm they are the best meds for you.
- Talk to your doctor about allergy shots before getting one. If you get allergy shots on a regular basis, you can continue getting them through your pregnancy (but be sure to discuss your pregnancy with the allergist). However, if you’ve never had allergy shots before or it’s been a while since you have, you might be better off without it. In the case that you have a negative or allergic reaction to the shot, both you and your fetus are at serious risk. Again, your allergist will know what’s best, based on your medical history and prior allergy shot history.
- Keep tabs on asthma at every prenatal visit. Each prenatal visit should include a little check-in and/or report about the previous month and whether or not you had any flare-ups or attacks, so we can assess whether the medication you’re on is doing its job or whether a change might be in order. Also, we’ll want to keep a close eye (or ear) on your lungs to ensure they sound healthy and infection-free. Mothers with severe asthma may need check lung function since two-thirds of asthma patients experience changes in their condition during pregnancy.
- Keep asthma medication with you at all times. Keep your inhaler and/or other meds with you at all times so you have access in case an attack occurs when you are out an about or visiting someone else’s home. The sooner you stop an attack, the better oxygenated you’ll be.
Ideally, you should have an OB and a separated doctor, working together to keep asthma in check throughout your pregnancy.
Minimize asthma triggers to reduce flare-ups or attacks
Minimizing asthma triggers to the best of your ability is the best thing you can do to reduce asthma symptoms. If you haven’t done so before, start logging flare-ups and attacks to see if you can identify triggers that are more personalized to you.
Dust, dander, pollen and mold are common triggers so it might be wise to enlist the help of a partner, friend or relative who can do that portion of the house cleaning for you (hooray!). If you’re the one who typically tidies up the office, see if other co-workers will take that on while you’re pregnant. Also, make sure your HVAC filters are changed every month to limit recirculating triggers. It’s an easy DIY fix, but if you have to do it – make sure to wear a mask.
Some of the lesser-known asthma triggers include:
- Traffic (Idling in traffic? Flip the switch to have re-circulated rather than fresh air to minimize fumes)
- Food additives such as sulfites (Sodium bisulfite, potassium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, and sodium sulfite), MSG, or red and yellow food coloring
- Aspirin (about 2 out of 10 people are sensitive to aspirin and will have a reaction to it)
- Acid reflux and heartburn (stay away from foods that trigger these conditions for you)
- Alcohol (but you’re not drinking while pregnant, right?)
- Air fresheners or scented candles (or anything that else the includes synthetic fragrance)
Are you susceptible to any of these triggers? Pay attention to your environment and your body and it may be easier to control asthma than you think. Keeping a tight rein on asthma will give your body and your baby the gift of breathing easy.