Shortness Of Breath During Pregnancy: Is It Normal & How To Ease It?

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Most pregnant women experience shortness of breath. While some feel breathless right from the first trimester, some others experience it in the final trimester. If you are one among them, do not worry as the condition is completely normal and it will not harm you or your baby. Momjunction is here to tell you what causes breathlessness during pregnancy, under what circumstances it is not normal and when you should consult a doctor.

Is Shortness Of Breath During Pregnancy Normal?

It is common to experience shortness of breath especially in the third trimester and also in the early pregnancy. Nearly 75% of women who never felt breathless earlier feel short of breath during pregnancy (1).

If the breathlessness is due to some physical strain like climbing the stairs, then it is completely normal and harmless.

[ Read: Benefits Of Breathing Exercises During Pregnancy ]

What Causes Shortness Of Breath In Pregnancy?

Breathing difficulties in pregnancy arise mainly due to the natural changes the body undergoes to adapt itself for holding a baby. This condition is also called Dyspnea or Dyspnoea (2). Here are a few trimester-wise body changes that could lead to breathlessness.

In The First Trimester:

  • The ribcage becomes broader to increase lung capacity. It moves upwards and outwards, thus making it difficult for you to get into tight-fitting tops.
  • Progesterone hormone is also responsible for your breathlessness. It makes your body absorb more oxygen into the bloodstream thus increasing the lung capacity. Your body will, therefore, get overwhelmed to breathe out excess levels of carbon dioxide.
  • Though your breathing rate is same as before your conception, you will take the breath more deeply, and this is the reason you will feel breathless (3).
  • Also, in the early pregnancy, the blood volume swells by about 50%, for which you heart has to work harder than before. This makes you breathe more even when you are resting.

In The Second Trimester:

  • The pregnancy hormones, as in the first trimester, allow your body to take more oxygen, therefore stimulating your brain to increase the number and depths of your breaths.
  • The hormones also cause swelling of the capillaries in the respiratory tract making you feel like you are breathing hard.

In the Third Trimester:

  • Your growing baby and expanding uterus push the diaphragm (the muscle that lies under the ribcage), restricting the amount of space for your lungs and making it hard for them to expand (4).
  • It will, therefore, make you to breathe faster, as if you have just run a marathon. It is quite normal and completely harmless to you and your fetus.
  • You will feel short of breath during the final trimester especially when you are carrying the fetus high or there is excess amniotic fluid.

You may also go out of breath when you take stairs, carry heavy weights or have gained weight unusually during pregnancy.

Shortness of breath can also happen when you are carrying twin or more babies. You need to take as much rest as you can.

Sometimes, breathlessness can indicate that something is wrong. The conditions include:

  • Anemia: If you are deficient in iron, you will have low red blood cell count(red blood cells carry oxygen from lungs to rest of the body and return carbon dioxide from the body to lungs) and your body works harder to provide oxygen for you and your baby. Breathlessness develops as one of the symptoms of anemia.

[ Read: Anemia During Pregnancy ]

  • Asthma can be another reason for breathlessness (5), and you should check with your doctor if your breathing problem is due to this condition or pregnancy hormones.
  • If you have breathlessness along with heart burn, racing pulse, palpitations or cold fingers and toes, it could indicate a serious complication of heart or lungs. You should immediately check with your doctor.

Doctor’s Speak

Is it normal to breathe hard during pregnancy?

There is nothing to worry about. You tend to breathe hard due to the hormone progesterone. Shortness of breath because of low hemoglobin levels (anemia), which can be caused due to dietary deficiency, wrong food habits or deliberate dieting, should be consulted with a gynecologist.

List a few remedies to relieve shortness of breath during pregnancy.

1. As soon as you feel breathless move to a position that helps you breathe easier.
2. Aerobic exercise, began early in your pregnancy, improves the efficiency of both the respiratory and circulatory systems.

Is there any treatment for shortness of breath during pregnancy?

There is no such treatment for shortness of breath during pregnancy but intentional relaxation, and breathing exercises can help you. Sleeping with your head and chest elevated can also help. Paying attention to the right postures while sitting, standing or sleeping is extremely important.

How do pregnant women cope-up with shortness of breath? Will this affect the unborn baby?

Pregnant women should have a comfortable posture to increase the space in the abdominal cavity and get relief from breathing problems. Slow down when feeling breathless. And finally, not worry too much about shortness of breath: both the mother and the baby would get enough oxygen to stay healthy.

Can shortness of breath be a sign of early pregnancy?

Yes, shortness of breath can be a sign of early pregnancy. There are dozens of early pregnancy symptoms women are not familiar with. Delayed menstruation is considered as the most common indicator, and then they opt for pregnancy test kits. Baby needs oxygen and blood to develop and grow, in the first few weeks after conception sharing your oxygen and blood with baby can cause shortness of breath.

Are upper back pain and shortness of breath common during pregnancy?

It’s quite common for expectant women to be short of breath. Breathing may become more difficult with time as enlarging uterus takes up more space, resulting in pressure against your diaphragm (the muscle below your lungs). This causes pain in the upper back and shoulders. The changes in your body, mainly because of your growing breasts, can also cause ache in the upper back.

Answers by: Dr Helai Gupta

Senior Consultant
Obstetrics & Gynecology
Paras Bliss, Delhi

How To Ease Shortness Of Breath During Pregnancy

1. Practice Good Posture:

  • Good posture will relieve shortness of breath (6). While sitting, keep your chest lifted and your shoulder placed back. This gives enough room for your lungs to expand.
  • While sleeping, prop your body upwards using some pillows, to expand the space in your abdominal cavity, giving you relief.
  • Also, if you are lying by side, use an extra pillow to elevate your head.

2. Change Your Position:

If you feel breathless by being in the same position for long, shift your position to breathe easily. You may stand up straight as it will relieve pressure on your diaphragm.

3. Slow Down:

Listen to your body’s signals and rest whenever you feel like relaxing. When you feel out of breath, try to relax. Just stop from what you are doing and take a few deep breaths until you start feeling better. Give a break of about 20 minutes and then resume your activity.

4. Practice Breathing Exercises:

Breathing exercises (7) will help increase your lung capacity and offer more chest breathing (as abdominal breathing is difficult due to expanding uterus). You can try this breathing exercise:

  • Inhale deeply while raising your arms upwards and sides.
  • Then exhale while bringing back your arms down on sides.
  • Raise your head while inhaling and lower while exhaling.
  • Take a longer breathe into your chest than your abdomen by placing your hands on the rib cage.
  • Push your ribs against the hands while you are inhaling deeply. Practice deep breathing so that you can switch to it whenever abdominal breathing becomes hard.

[ Read: Pranayama During Pregnancy ]

5. Exercise:

Lack of fitness can increase your breathlessness so try some light exercises, which will allow you t to hold a conversation without going out of breath. Your baby should also get enough oxygen while you exercise.

  • Aerobic exercises in early pregnancy can improve your breathing and control pulse rate (8). Confirm with your doctor before you start any exercise program.
  • If you have not started any activities, it is the right time to start beginner yoga. The stretches in yoga offer room to breathe properly.
  • Brisk walking and swimming will also increase your ability to breathe deeper and maintain your fitness levels.

Listen to your body signals and do not overdo any exercise. These exercises will offer you enough stamina to deal with breathlessness symptoms effectively.

How Can You Prevent Breathlessness In Pregnancy?

1. Stay Hydrated:

Breathlessness is a common symptom of dehydration. Make sure you are drinking enough water and avoiding beverages like coffee, tea, soda and alcohol. These drinks increase your body weight and can worsen your shortness of breath.

2. Eat Healthy:

You need to control your weight during pregnancy. Right from the moment you plan for pregnancy, try maintaining ideal weight and fitness level. Eating a healthy balanced diet will prevent breathlessness. A proper diet promotes healthy weight, and eases your breathing.

  • Do not take foods containing excess sugars, fats, and salts.
  • Include iron-rich foods like red meat, dark berries, and green leaves as breathlessness can be one of the symptoms of anemia caused by iron deficiency.
  • Increase vitamin C intake as it helps your body absorb iron. Also, beans are a great sources of protein. However, consume them in moderation especially the dark-hued ones, as they affect your body’s iron absorption.

[ Read: Sample Diet Chart For Pregnant Women ]

3. Avoid Strenuous Tasks:

Do not exert yourself by carrying heavy objects or working late in the office. Try to take breaks from strenuous works.

When To Seek Doctor’ Help?

It is common to feel breathless while you are pregnant. But, if you experience any other serious symptoms, you should immediately check with your doctor for remedies. The symptoms of caution could be:

  • Severe breathlessness along with rapid breathing, chest pain or rapid heart rate (tachycardia).
  • Severe pain in the chest while taking a deep breath.
  • Bluish tinge on lips and fingertips.
  • Giddiness soon after doing any activity.
  • Breathing difficulty while lying down, or at nights.
  • A persistent cough along with fever or coughing blood.
  • A feeling that you are out of oxygen.
  • Feeling of tiredness due to anemia.
  • Breathing problem as a result of asthma or pneumonia.

Beware:

  • If you do not control asthma during pregnancy, the risks are quite higher to you and your fetus.
  • Another serious complication pulmonary embolism, the blood clot in the lungs, can occur causing breathlessness (9). It requires immediate doctor’s attention.

[ Read: Asthma During Pregnancy ]

How Long Will Shortness Of Breath Last?

If you are a first-time mother, your baby drops down to your pelvis around 36 weeks. This is the time when your breathing issues last. If you were pregnant before, your baby will not fall until the end of your pregnancy (10).

After delivery, the progesterone hormone naturally comes down, relieving pressure on your diaphragm and uterus. But, it takes at least a couple of months for your breathing system to resume to normal.

Does Shortness Of Breath Hurt Your Baby?

As long as you do not suffer from any other worrying symptoms, feeling short of breath is common and will not harm your baby since he will get plenty of oxygen through the placenta. Your deep and efficient breathing will supply your fetus with oxygenated blood.

Have you also experienced breathlessness during pregnancy? What did you do to overcome the condition? You can share your experiences with other expectant mothers here.

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Rebecca Malachi

"I believe words have power. They are a powerful tool for a creative soul. Being a 'word addict', I express my thoughts and contribute articles on health, wellness and beauty. Apart from writing, I love listening to gospel music and enjoy observing nature in silence."
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