Could Your Asthma Affect Your Baby?

Asthma in pregnant women linked to increased disease risk for baby

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Many women deal with asthma when they are pregnant. But it may not be just the mother who is affected by the disease. A pregnant mother's asthma also may pose some risks to newborn children.

A recent study was conducted to see if asthma during pregnancy could put a baby at risk for disease. The study focused on the potential long-term consequences that could continue into childhood.

The authors of this study concluded that the offspring of women with asthma could be at risk for multiple issues. They suggested that women with asthma receive continuous and careful monitoring throughout their pregnancy.

"Talk to your doctor if you are pregnant and have asthma."

This study was conducted by Marion Tegethoff, PhD, from the Division of Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Basel in Switzerland, and colleagues.

This is the first study to look at the connections between asthma during pregnancy and a wide variety of different possible childhood diseases. Previous studies have focused on a small number of specific possible diseases.

Information on the participants was pulled from a prior study called the Danish National Birth Cohort, which took place from 1996 to 2002. The researchers of the current study used data from 66,712 women who had single live births during this time.

The women had been invited to participate in the previous study between six and 12 weeks of pregnancy, and had follow-up interviews throughout the research period of 1996 to 2002. During the follow-up research, the children were between the ages of 4 and 9.

Data from the previous study showed that 6 percent of the mothers reported having asthma during pregnancy, and 94 percent did not. The women underwent computer-assisted interviews at around 12 weeks into the pregnancy, 30 weeks into the pregnancy and six months after having the baby.

Diagnosis of asthma was self-reported by the mother.

The researchers of the current study found that asthma during pregnancy, compared to pregnancy without asthma, could significantly increase the risk of infectious diseases in newborn babies.

The findings showed about a 43 percent increased risk of disease of the nervous system, 43 percent increased risk of disease of the respiratory system and a 39 percent increased risk for skin disease.

The findings suggested that newborn babies and children could also face a 26 percent increased risk for both endocrine (bodily system of glands) and metabolic disorders, 17 percent increased risk for diseases of the digestive system and 13 percent increased risk for general malformations at birth.

However, the risks for these illnesses were not confirmed in secondary analyses, so the authors suggested that the risk potential could be lower compared to the previously mentioned diseases.

The researchers determined that asthma during pregnancy did not carry a considerable risk for neoplasms, mental disorders or diseases of the blood and immune system, circulatory system, musculoskeletal system and genitourinary system.

These results suggest that there may be multiple underlying causes that explain the links between these diseases and maternal asthma. The authors suggested that it is possible that the mother may have other conditions that affect the baby's risk for disease.

The authors of the current study believe that these potential developmental malfunctions are often triggered by asthma; therefore the increased risk would still be due to maternal asthma.

These findings are important because asthma affects roughly 8 percent of pregnant women.

The researchers noted multiple limitations to the study. First, they did not have access to information on how severe the mothers' asthma cases were. This was perhaps the most major limitation.

Symptoms or official diagnostic results (relating to a specific doctor-given diagnosis) were not available, so the researchers could not consider certain subtypes of asthma or different manifestations of the disease. The authors suggested that it was appropriate to assume that babies of mothers with less severe asthma were likely to be low risk for the diseases mentioned.

Another limitation had to do with the generality of the interview questions used to gather follow up data on the diseases. The disease reports were given over the phone and could not go into specifics.

Also, the answers were only partially validated, and the authors classified the diseases according to the ICD-10 — the international standard diagnostic classification system of diseases. Therefore, the authors could not differentiate between minor and severe cases of reported diseases in the data.

The researchers also noted that they might have overlooked childhood diseases that were not as severe as the ones studied because diagnostic information on the children was not available.

They believe that more studies need to be conducted to examine the possibility for risks continuing into adulthood.

Ultimately, the authors highly recommend that pregnant women with asthma need to receive careful and continuous monitoring of both their own health and the developing baby's health throughout pregnancy and the children's health through childhood.

This study was published online on August 5 in Pediatrics. It will be released in print in the September edition.

The German National Academic Foundation and the Swiss National Science Foundation provided funding for this project.

Review Date: 
August 14, 2013
Last Updated:
August 23, 2013