Maternal Asthma Medication Use and the Risk of Selected Birth Defects

Woman taking asthma medication

Asthma, a disease that affects the lungs, is a common disease during pregnancy, affecting about 4%–12% of pregnant women.1,2 About 3% of pregnant women use asthma medications, including bronchodilators or anti-inflammatory drugs.3 Currently, guidelines recommend that women with asthma continue to use medication to control their condition during pregnancy.4 However, the safety data on using asthma medications during pregnancy are limited.

Recently, researchers used data from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study (NBDPS) to examine maternal asthma medication use during pregnancy and the risk of certain birth defects. The results were published in Pediatrics. You can read the abstract hereexternal icon.

Main Findings

  • Data from the study showed that using asthma medication during pregnancy
    • Did not increase the risk for most of the birth defects studied.
    • Might increase the risk for some birth defects, such as esophageal atresia (birth defect of the esophagus or food tube), anorectal atresia (birth defect of the anus), and omphalocele (birth defect of the abdominal wall).
  • The most commonly reported asthma medications used during pregnancy were
    • Albuterol (2%–3% of women)
    • Fluticasone (About 1% of women)
  • It was difficult to determine if asthma or other health problems related to having asthma increased the risk for these birth defects, or if the increased risk was from the medication use during pregnancy.

Our Work

Treating for Two Safer Medication Use in Pregnancy logo

CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) is working to improve the health of women and babies through its Treating for Two: Safer Medication Use in Pregnancy initiative. Treating for Two works to understand trends in medicine among pregnant women and women of reproductive age, and provide women and healthcare providers with information about the safety or risk of using specific medicines during pregnancy. This information will allow women and their doctors to make informed decisions about treating health conditions during pregnancy.

For more information, visit

Please Remember

Pregnant women should not stop or start taking any type of medication that they need without first talking with a doctor. Women who are planning to become pregnant should discuss the need for any medication with their doctor before becoming pregnant and ensure they are taking only medications that are necessary.

  1. Kwon HL, Belanger K, Bracken MB. Asthma prevalence among pregnant and childbearing aged women in the United States: Estimates from National Health Surveys. Ann Epidemiol. 2003; 13:317-324.
  2. NAEPP Expert Panel Report. Managing asthma during pregnancy: recommendations for pharmacological treatment – update 2004. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2005;115:34-36.
  3. Kallen B, Olausson PO. Use of anti-asthmatic drugs during pregnancy. 3. Congenital malformations in the infants. Euro J Clin Pharmacol. 2007;63:383-388.
  4. Osur SL. The management of asthma and rhinitis during pregnancy. J Women’s Health. 2005; 14:263-276.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Update on Overall Prevalence of Major Birth Defects–Atlanta, Georgia, 1978-2005. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2008;57(1):1-5.
  6. Heron MP, Hoyert DL, Murphy SL, Xu JQ, Kochanek KD, Tejada-Vera B. Deaths: Final data for 2006. National vital statistics reports; vol 57 no 14. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2009.
Reference for Key Findings Feature:
  • Lin S, Munsie JP, Herdt-Losavio ML, Druschel C, Campbell K, Browne M, Romitti P, Olney R, Bell E. Maternal Asthma Medication Use and the Risk of Selected Birth Defects. Pediatr. 2011 [Epub ahead of print]