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

The fact is—barring other complications—many women with asthma have uncomplicated pregnancies and healthy newborns. We answer some frequently asked questions about pregnancy, asthma, and difficulty breathing while pregnant.

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

Women with asthma can definitely tolerate pregnancy well. However, a proportion of women have worsening asthma symptoms during pregnancy. For that reason, 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 complicated by chronic illness and asthma can answer your questions.

I 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 and who may recommend safer drugs.  

A healthy baby needs a healthy mom. If your asthma is not controlled, it may have an impact on your own health and lead to a need for hospital admission. Your baby might not be healthy either if your asthma is not well controlled. Poorly controlled asthma could actually have worse effects on the baby than many medications. 

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 cases, but not all, 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 such as asthma 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. In other, more rare cases, breathing difficulty may be related to other breathing complications that pregnancy may exacerbate. For that reason, consulting with a physician with expertise in pregnancy and medical disorders is key. 

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

Our team of experts at the Women's Medicine Collaborative offers a variety of healthcare services for women, including treatment of pulmonary disease and sleep apnea in pregnancy.

Visit the Women's Medicine Collaborative website to learn more, or call 401-793-5700 to make an appointment.

Ghada Bourjeily, MD, FCCP

Dr. Ghada Bourjeily, FCCP, is a pulmonary physician at the Women's Medicine Collaborative and a professor of medicine at Brown University. Dr. Bourjeily has the unique expertise in and researches sleep and respiratory disorders in pregnancy, including understanding sleep disordered breathing in pregnant women. She is also the director of research at the Women's Medicine Collaborative and the Associate Chief for Academic Advancement and Research in Women's Services.