Pregnancy & Shortness of Breath

Pregnancy & Shortness of Breath
Pregnancy & Shortness of Breath (Image: WikiMedia (Canwest News Service))

Shortness of breath or a feeling of breathlessness is a common symptom of pregnancy. Most women will experience shortness of breath at some point during their pregnancy due to the changes that are occurring within the body. While this symptom can prompt fear on behalf of the soon to be mom, it is rarely a cause for concern. Shortness of breath is most prominent in the first trimester and the third trimester, though it can occur throughout the pregnancy.

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Early in pregnancy, the hormone, progesterone, is responsible for an increase in lung capacity. This increased lung capacity delivers oxygen to the mother and the fetus. Because more oxygen is being delivered to the blood, your body may increase the number of breaths you take. This can result in a feeling of being short of breath. In the third trimester, the expansion of the uterus causes other organs to change positions. With this expansion, the uterus places increasing pressure on the diaphragm. Because the diaphragm can no longer fully extend and retract, more shallow breathing ensues. This can cause shortness of breath. When the baby drops into position towards the end of the third trimester, pressure of the diaphragm is alleviated and the feeling of breathlessness is generally relieved.


According to the March of Dimes, call your doctor if you experience other symptoms along with shortness of breath. These symptoms include a rapid pulse, heart palpitations, dizziness, chest pain, blueness around the lips, fingers or toes, a cough that does not go away, coughing up blood, fever or chills, or worsening asthma. If your shortness of breath occurs suddenly and does not resolve, even without the presence of other symptoms, call your health care provider. Other respiratory disorders, such as asthma, can also cause shortness of breath in pregnancy. If you have a respiratory disorder, speak to your doctor about the possible implications and treatment procedures that are available during your pregnancy.


There are several ways that shortness of breath can be lessened during pregnancy. If you experience shortness of breath during exertion, you should stop your current activity until the feeling subsides. If shortness of breath strikes during sedentary times, try one of these methods. Lay on your left side. This reduces pressure on the vena cava, a main artery on your right side, and can increase bodily functions. If it does not offer relief, try leaning slightly forward in a sitting position. Particularly in the third trimester, this can alleviate the weight your uterus is placing on your diaphragm. Also, pay attention to your posture when standing. By standing straight up, your lungs are allowed to expand to their full capacity. Finally, try sleeping in an elevated position. By elevating your upper body during sleep, your lungs can expand and retract more easily.


Moms fear that their own shortness of breath can indicate a lack of oxygen to the fetus. This is usually not the case. Shortness of breath occurs due to your body working overtime to deliver the needed nutrients and supplies to your fetus. Rest assured that the fetus is getting what it needs to thrive.


In many cases, shortness of breath in pregnancy is not cause for concern. It is one of the many ways that your body prepares for nurturing the fetus throughout the pregnancy. According to the Mayo Clinic, your lungs are working 40 percent harder than before you became pregnant. With this increase, shortness of breath is to be expected. If you are concerned, speak to your doctor. He can evaluate your shortness of breath to deliver the peace of mind needed to make you breathe a little easier.

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