During pregnancy, asthma-related alterations in placental function and the maternal immune system, and reduced growth affecting female but not male fetuses have been reported in a study of selected Australian women. The objective of this study was to evaluate the effect of asthma management, declared during pregnancy, on birthweight and neonatal outcome at an inner-city hospital in England. Between June 2001 and December 2003, women at antenatal clinics were questioned about asthma (n = 10 983). Women with asthma and singleton uncomplicated pregnancies ending at term were selected (n = 718), with non-asthmatic controls (n = 718).
Among asthmatic women using inhaled steroids and bronchodilators (n = 170), 43% of the newborn boys had birthweights <10th centile, compared with 27% of controls (P = 0.011; OR 2.51 [95% CI: 1.52, 4.14]). For girls, the proportions were 28% and 27%. In women using bronchodilators only (n = 178) or those declaring no treatment (n = 370), birthweights were not significantly reduced. Taking account of smoking, ethnicity, gestational age and parity, there was a mean birthweight reduction with inhaled steroids and bronchodilators of 118 g [95% CI 36.0, 199.0 g] compared with the control group. There was no interaction between the effect of asthma treatment and infant gender. Infants of asthmatic women in the three subgroups who required intensive care were more likely to exhibit transient tachypnoea of the newborn than infants of control women (P < 0.005). In our population-based sample, the risk of low birthweight among asthmatic women did not depend on infant gender, while neonatal respiratory morbidity remains a significant health issue in boys and girls.