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Pregnancy and Asthma - Information and Common Questions

This is probably not a shock to you, but all sorts of women become pregnant. This means that people with all manner of afflictions and health problems bring that defect along with them into the pregnancy. This is not always something of too much concern, as long as you take good care of yourself. One of those problems is asthma; women with asthma don't have to consider themselves "high risk" during pregnancy, as long as they follow proper health strategies as well as the advice of their doctor. 

Here's a curious fact about pregnancy and asthma about 1/3 of those who are pregnant will notice no major change in their asthma while pregnant. Another 1/3 actually experience an improvement with their condition during pregnancy, and the other 1/3 notice that their asthma flares up more so than usual when pregnant.  And there appears to be no way of predicting which pattern a woman will go.

One of the challenges with having asthma while pregnant is knowing which symptom is a result of the pregnancy and which is a result of the asthma. After all, a common characteristic of a pregnant woman is shortness of breath.

Over time, a woman's body will adapt to almost any changes that pregnancy brings.  As an example, the pregnant person carries more weight than usual. However, her lungs will adapt and begin to work harder to balance out the need for oxygen caused by the extra weight.  This means, in short, she breathes faster than normal. This is a healthy change.

Another relevant change is that, with the growth of the belly, there is a change of the shape of the bottom area of the chest.  This makes is harder for the woman to take deep breaths, and therefore increases her rate of respiration.  To counter this, the ribs will spread out, resembling bucket handles, which will allow the woman to breathe deeper.

All of this leaves us with the question:  If pregnancy itself causes breathing changes like those mentioned, how do you tell when there is a problem with out-of-control asthma?  First, it's essential that you monitor your condition during pregnancy--even more so than usual. This way, it's easier to know when your asthma is under control.  The warning symptoms associated with asthma remain the same, pregnant or not. 

You just have to be more conscious of sensing changes. Call your doctor if you notice any of these: 1) Normal daily tasks are becoming harder than usual during your pregnancy, because of breathing; 2) You're needing your inhaler more than you feel like you should; 3) During a phone call, you hear a wheezing sound coming from yourself.  Remember: You must pay attention to what the symptoms are telling you.  Better to call your doctor when you don't need to than to ignore important warning signs.

Now let's talk a bit about asthma medications. It's not unusual for a woman to require the use of medicine while pregnant, and a doctor will often recommend that you do so.  This concerns some women, because they've heard so much about medications that should not be taken during these nine months.  However, if you don't control your asthma, your baby is more at risk than if you use the medication.  The baby needs the oxygen that comes from properly oxygenated blood.  He / She will be at risk of not getting this if you don't control your asthma.

In fact, studies have shown no added risk for women who are pregnant who continue to take their asthma medication.  Most are perfectly safe for both baby and you. Nevertheless, always talk with your doctor, since he will be aware of the latest research.

Common Pregnancy / Asthma Questions

Let's conclude by addressing some of the most common questions that asthma patients have about pregnancy:

1) "How will my baby fare as a result of my asthma?"  While there are never any guarantees, in the 21st century, chronic diseases such as asthma are not nearly the barrier to a successful pregnancy that they once were. There are thousands of women who carry their babies successfully, though afflicted with diabetes, asthma, or hypertension.  The key most often is working with your doctors to constantly monitor your health and follow their guidelines. 

And remember: One of the most important things you can do for your baby is to stay away from cigarette smoke.  This can be quite harmful to your unborn child. It increases the likelihood of the child having low birth weight or being born with a respiratory disease.

2) "Will asthma present of a problem if a cesarean section is needed?"  It goes without saying that for a c-section, you need to be as healthy as possible. This means you need to be controlling your asthma.  Doctors are told that they should never send a patient who is wheezing into the operating room.  Your doctor might recommend that you get some breathing treatments (for instance, nebulizers) before the process if you have experienced an asthma attack during your pregnancy.

3) "Can I choose not to take any asthma medication?"  No.  If you are an asthma patient and pregnant, you risk putting the baby's health in jeopardy if you don't use your asthma medication.

Finally, don't worry too much about your baby having asthma.  Studies show that most women with asthma have babies free of the disease. Once your baby is born, you can probably go back to your usual medicines (although you must check with your physician). And yes, it's safe to breast-feed your child--and in fact, doing so might boost his or her immune system.

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