By Jennifer Namazy, MD,
Allergist & Immunologist, MotherToBaby Pregnancy Studies Asthma Study Consultant
My first patient of the day was an urgent visit for a woman with shortness of breath. Her name was Heather and she had found out she was pregnant about two months ago. She was thrilled since she had been trying to have a baby for about two years. Once she found out she was pregnant she did three things: she shared the wonderful news with family, she began plans on her new nursery and she stopped all of her asthma medications. She is in her 30s and prior to her pregnancy had been on no medications other than those needed to control the asthma she has had since she was a toddler. These medications include an inhaled corticosteroid, a long acting bronchodilator and rescue medicine in the form of a short acting bronchodilator. She felt that since she was lucky to have become pregnant, she did not want to harm the tiny baby now growing inside her – thus her decision to stop taking her asthma medications. So while she started plans on bringing this baby into the world, the inflammation in her lungs began to go unchecked. At first, she noticed that when she would go to the gym it was harder for her to catch her breath. Then she noticed she was waking up at night feeling like an elephant was sitting on her chest. She attributed the symptoms to being “out of shape” and “anxiety” about the new baby. Finally, while she was having lunch with some friends, someone told a funny story, and her laugh quickly became a wheezy cough. That’s when she ended up in my office.
Asthma is one of the most common serious medical problems to complicate pregnancy. We know that asthma can get better, get worse or stay the same during pregnancy. Uncontrolled asthma may cause problems for both mom and baby. Having flares of asthma during pregnancy can lead to low oxygen levels in mom which translates to low oxygen levels for baby. This may lead to problems with baby’s growth.
As we embark on May’s National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, I thought it’d be a perfect time to go over some critical reminders if you have asthma and find out you’re pregnant. Here are some things you should do to keep you and your baby healthy:
Don’t stop your asthma medications – Managing asthma during pregnancy is not different than before you were pregnant. The majority of commonly used medications such as those used by Heather that are described above, which include inhaled corticosteroids, are generally safe. If you have questions about the safety of the medications you are taking, call your doctor or contact MotherToBaby.
Keep those appointments – Since asthma can change during pregnancy, it is important to visit with your doctor on a monthly basis to assess your asthma. Waiting until you have symptoms can often be too late. Lung function testing can detect small changes in airway blockage that can then be treated right away.
Join an Asthma and Pregnancy study – Fewer than 10% of all medications have enough information to determine their safety for use in pregnancy. You can help change that by joining a pregnancy study! These studies provide more safety information on commonly used medications during pregnancy, and they do not require you to change your medications. To learn more, visit MotherToBaby’s Asthma and Pregnancy Study page.
Don’t forget your allergies – While having bad allergies during pregnancy has not been shown to have an effect on the baby, it can affect your sleep and general quality of life. Avoiding those triggers, such as: dust, pet dander, pollens, etc. and using allergy medications when needed, can make for a less stuffy, and more pleasant, pregnancy.
Dr. Jennifer Namazy is an allergist and immunologist, specializing in treating asthma and other respiratory conditions in children, adults and pregnant women. She practices at Scripps Clinic Medical Group in La Jolla, CA. She currently serves as an expert consultant for MotherToBaby’s asthma in pregnancy studies.
MotherToBaby is a service of the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS), suggested resources by many agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you have questions about exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding, please call MotherToBaby toll-FREE at 866-626-6847 or try out MotherToBaby’s new text information service by texting questions to (855) 999-3525. You can also visit MotherToBaby.org to browse a library of fact sheets about dozens of viruses, medications, vaccines, alcohol, diseases, or other exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding or connect with all of our resources by downloading the new MotherToBaby free app, available on Android and iOS markets.