Trouble Breathing while Pregnant – Causes & Treatment

Shortness of Breath During Pregnancy – Reasons & Prevention

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Sabiha Anjum (Gynecologist/Obstetrician)
View more Gynecologist/Obstetrician Our Panel of Experts

Many pregnant woman find themselves feeling breathless, especially as the pregnancy progresses. However, facing trouble breathing while pregnant is a symptom not many women know of and it usually catches them by surprise. Here is a quick look at the different aspects of breathing problems during pregnancy that you may encounter.

Is Breathlessness During Pregnancy Normal?

Yes. Most women face problems with catching their breath during pregnancy. As your body undergoes many changes, including a drastic change in the levels of your hormones, one of the first things you will notice is a change in the way you breathe. Your breaths become more laboured, deeper, and frequent. About 75% of women experience breathlessness in their pregnancy. It is perfectly normal to have a breathing problem during pregnancy, especially when engaging in any physical activity.

What Causes Shortness of Breath in Pregnant Women?

Finding yourself suddenly short of breath while you are trying to stay as healthy as you can for your pregnancy can be quite alarming. It is crucial that you educate yourself on the causes of breathlessness while pregnant.

  • First trimester

You are likely to face breathlessness during early pregnancy, as it is one of the first symptoms of pregnancy. Your baby needs oxygen as well as blood supply for development. As your body begins to share its oxygen supply with your baby, you can experience breathlessness.

During this trimester, the focus is on increasing your lung capacity by expanding the rib cage. You will notice this change as your clothes will get tighter. The hormone progesterone will be created in excess which will overstimulate your respiratory system.

  • Second trimester

In this stage, your body’s hormones are the primary reason you will continue to feel breathless. The capillaries in your lungs will swell while the muscles around them will relax. All of these physiological changes will result in shortness of breath. The hormones will regulate your breathing pattern into taking deeper and more frequent breaths.

  • Third trimester

As your baby begins to grow, your uterus will push against all other organs. This includes your diaphragm. In most cases, the diaphragm will shift up to 4cm. This pressure makes it hard for your lungs to expand fully, thus, causing breathlessness and discomfort. You will feel more pressure if you are carrying the foetus high, have lots of amniotic fluid, or have multiple pregnancies.

Remedies to Relieve Shortness of Breath During Pregnancy

Since breathlessness is a natural physiological response by your body to being pregnant, there isn’t any particular cure to this condition. However, there are many ways in which you can relieve the discomfort as well as manage the condition. Here are a few of them:

  • Make sure your posture is conducive for your lungs to be able to function at its best. Stand or sit up straight with your shoulders back and your chin up. This posture allows your lungs to expand with no hindrance.
  • Use extra pillows to prop yourself when sleeping. If you are used to sleeping on your side, make sure you prop up your head. This ensures your passageway remains unobstructed as you sleep.
  • Don’t forget to relax. When pregnant, you must take care of all your needs and put special emphasis on keeping calm. If you begin to feel breathless, take a break immediately. Concentrate on relaxing and getting your breath under control for the next 20 minutes. Once you feel comfortable again, you can continue with your activity.
  • Breathing exercises are a great way to regulate your breathing troubles. These exercises must concentrate on chest breathing as abdominal breathing will be compromised. While practising breathing exercises, concentrate on the movement of your ribcage. It must move outward as you inhale.
  • Regular exercise can help with a host of conditions. Talk to your doctor about a form of exercise most suited for you. You can choose to incorporate yoga or an aerobic exercise like swimming into your daily routine to build stamina.
  • Sometimes, breathlessness can be resolved by something as simple as changing your position. Remember to keep changing positions and find one that you feel most comfortable.

How Long Does Breathlessness In Pregnancy Last?

Once you start feeling symptoms of breathlessness you are bound to continue doing so till the end of pregnancy. Once you give birth, the levels of progesterone will come back to normal almost immediately. Your ribcage and respiratory tract will take longer to come back to normal.

How Long Does Breathlessness In Pregnancy Last?

However, if this is your first pregnancy, then your baby will drop to the pelvis by the 36th week. After this, you will find considerable relief from any breathing troubles.

Will Breathing Problems During Pregnancy Affect My Baby?

Breathlessness is a common condition. As long as you do not experience other symptoms, such as chest pains, you and your baby should be safe. Your baby will continue to get ample amount of oxygen through the amniotic fluid. Remember, the function of progesterone in your respiratory system is to ensure that you take in copious amounts of oxygen. In case you are still worried, feel free to talk to your doctor about all your concerns.

Is Breathlessness During Pregnancy an Indication of a Serious Problem?

Sometimes, the breathlessness you experience could be indicative of any other underlying issues you might have. It is best that you keep tabs on all symptoms you experience. You could be experiencing a breathing problem during pregnancy due to the following issues:

  • Anaemia is a condition where the count of your red blood cells (RBC) reduces drastically due to low iron content. Since the RBCs are responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs to the different parts of the body, your lungs feel extra pressure to work harder to meet the demands of an oxygen-starved body. If you are anaemic and are pregnant, the condition could worsen as your baby requires ample amounts of oxygen supply for healthy development.
  • If you already suffer from asthma, your pregnancy could make the condition exacerbated. Common respiratory illnesses like the flu could also snowball into a much serious issue if left untreated.
  • In case you experience serious symptoms like chest pain, a quickening of the pulse, and your fingertips becoming cold, you could be suffering from a serious heart or lung condition. Rush to the emergency room if you experience these symptoms along with shortness of breath.

You must tell your doctor about all previous medical conditions. This way, he will be able to create a plan for yourself that is most suited to your needs.

How to Prevent Shortness Of Breath

There are many ways to make sure that you do not have trouble breathing in pregnancy. Here are a few:

  • Make sure that you stay hydrated. Avoid drinks like coffee, tea, soda, and alcohol. Dehydration is one of the key factors affecting breathlessness.
  • Avoid too much physical activity. Excessive strenuous activity will worsen your breathing troubles. Make sure you get people to help you with any daily chores or activities that are physically strenuous.
  • Eat healthy. More stress cannot be put on the positive effects of having a healthy diet, especially when you are pregnant. You must maintain an ideal weight during your pregnancy since fitness levels are a huge factor with it comes to trouble breathing while pregnant. Make sure you eat foods that are rich in iron like red meat and green leafy vegetables. Remember to take Vitamin C supplements, as it affects your body’s ability to absorb iron.

Feeling breathless during pregnancy is a common physiological condition. You must ensure that your doctors and caretakers are informed of this condition along with any other pre-existing ones. Keep track of the symptoms and do not hesitate to discuss them with your doctor.

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