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Health > More Health StoriesFall 2011 IS Magazine

Breathing for Two

Controlling asthma during pregnancy.

By Paula Bender

When you have an asthma attack, breathing for one is a challenge. So if you’re a pregnant woman with asthma, it’s important to remember that every breath you take is for two. I developed asthma when I became pregnant with my first daughter. By working with my doctors to follow a personal asthma management plan, I was able to successfully deliver two daughters 21-months apart, at term and without complications.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), asthma is one of the most common illnesses that complicates pregnancy. A chronic, persistent disease of the airways, asthma is characterized by coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing. It is usually reversible, but can be fatal. Add a growing baby to the equation and the need for oxygen increases exponentially.

For reasons not yet determined, women with asthma are slightly more likely to have high blood pressure or preeclampsia, deliver prematurely or by Caesarean section, or give birth to an underweight baby. None of this has to happen. Following an asthma control plan, which usually includes daily doses of medications used for long-term treatment combined with the occasional emergency inhaler, can help a woman with asthma enjoy a healthy and safe pregnancy.

For some women like me, asthma may occur for the first time during pregnancy. Asthma has no one cause, but there is evidence that heredity may play a role. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, some women may also develop asthma after pregnancy, perhaps due to hormonal fluctuations.

The NIH also asserts that, “the known risks of uncontrolled asthma are far greater than the known risks to the mother or fetus from asthma medications.” The bottom line? Breathe easy. Asthma medication helps both you and your growing baby get the oxygen necessary for a successful, full-term pregnancy.

Women who have asthma before they get pregnant should continue to follow their schedule of inhaled medications and always keep an inhaler within reach for emergencies. When properly controlled, a pregnant woman with asthma can maintain a normal pregnancy with little or no increased risk to herself or her baby. After delivery, breastfeeding is recommended because it reduces the risk of her infant developing asthma later, among the many other benefits it provides.

According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units Network, about one-third of women with asthma who get pregnant will see little or no change in their symptoms. Another third will worsen and the last third will actually improve. But because there is no way to determine where a woman falls in this spectrum, the NIH recommends that a pregnant woman’s ob-gyn be included in her asthma management team to help ensure that medications are adjusted as needed to lower the risk of complications to both mother and child.

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