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Shortness Of Breath While Pregnant

Shortness Of Breath While Pregnant


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Is It Normal To Feel Short Of Breath During Pregnancy?

The simple answer is yes. Most shortness of breath is totally normal throughout pregnancy. Of course, you know by now that your body is busy undergoing many changes. Some of those fun changes occur behind the scenes, like the ones responsible for your huffing and puffing.


Before you panic, take some deep breaths, cozy up on the couch and continue to read on. A 2015 study found that 60% to 70% of women experience shortness of breath in pregnancy, so you are certainly not alone!


What Causes Shortness of Breath During Pregnancy?

Like most of your pregnancy symptoms, hormones are the culprit for shortness of breath. Are you surprised at this point? Those hormone changes are like a pesky house guest who never puts a new toilet paper roll on the holder! You can’t get rid of them but man, are they annoying or what?


Progesterone is a hormone necessary for a fetus to develop. Progesterone also tells your brain to breathe faster and inhale deeper in order to send adequate oxygen to the baby. Hence why you feel like you just completed a Richard Simmons aerobics video after walking up the stairs.

You typically feel like you need to catch your breath more in the second and third trimesters but you can have symptoms even in the very early stages. 


The diaphragm is a muscle that plays an important role in breathing. It expands and contracts allowing your lungs to expand and contract as you breathe in and out. The diaphragm can be pushed upwards up to four centimeters in the first trimester alone!  This upward push is because your uterus expands to allow more comfortable living arrangements for your baby. 


Because the diaphragm gets shifted upwards, it leaves less room for your lungs to expand and contract, meaning your breaths are not as deep as they once were. Your body will naturally try to strike a deal with itself as your rib cage expands a tiny bit to try to provide more room for your lungs. This is why some of your tops may feel tighter than usual, even in early pregnancy before you start to show. Unfortunately, more comfort for your baby means less comfort for you. Ahh, the joys of motherhood!


Shortness of breath can also be caused by a number of other reasons. Your heart is working overtime to pump oxygenated blood to you and the baby. This increased effort can cause you to feel winded after doing something simple like sneaking to the fridge for that slice of carrot cake at 3:00 in the morning.


Think about how it feels walking through the airport to catch a plane with your stuffed duffle bag hanging off your shoulder. You’re exhausted by the time you lug that thing on the security conveyor, stop for a coffee and hurry to your gate. It’s worth it though to save the money you would have spent to pay for a checked bag, am I right? Pregnancy is much the same. Gaining weight is a fact of pregnancy for many women. The extra weight can put a strain on your body and make you feel like you’re constantly catching your breath after minimal exertion. But, your baby is growing and it’s worth a few extra pounds here and there.


How To Overcome Shortness Of Breath During Pregnancy

Light exercise can actually help with your symptoms. Light exercise means that you’re still able to hold a conversation while exerting yourself. This doesn’t mean you have to go to the gym and walk on a treadmill. Oh no, sister. Light exercise can be fun! 


Take some time for yourself and head to the mall in your comfy pants. Browse the stores and walk the long halls at a brisk pace. I mean, really, you’ll be multitasking as you get some exercise in and stock up on cute outfits for you and the baby. Look at you out there killing that mom life already!


Don’t hesitate to slow down when you need to. Doing your daily activities at a slower pace allows your heart and lungs more opportunity to rest. Delegate tasks when you feel it necessary, or even if you just don’t feel like doing the laundry that day- we won’t tell. 


Standing as straight as you can may help you catch your breath faster. Having good posture keeps all parts of your body in proper alignment. Hunching over can compress your organs and leave less room for your lungs to expand when you breathe in. Standing straight with your shoulders in line with your pelvis is kind of like unkinking a garden hose. Everything just flows better.


When it comes to sleeping, first of all, wear some comfortable pajamas, would ya? If you weren’t already doing so, now is the time for sweatpants and baggy t-shirts. You deserve it. Prop your upper body up with pillows and sleep on your left side. Your heart is slightly off center in your chest and more towards the left side. Sleeping on your left side causes less strain on your heart and helps it get all of that oxygen rich blood to you and the baby.

 pregnant woman sleeping on left side


When Can I Expect The Shortness Of Breath To End?

The good news is that your shortness of breath won’t last forever. The bad news is that it won’t go away until you’re just about ready to welcome your new bundle of joy. You can expect some sweet relief once your baby starts moving into position to make their grand entrance. 


Typically around 36 weeks is when your baby will start to reposition and face that little noggin of theirs downwards if this is your first pregnancy. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news to all you mom’s that have other babies at home- your baby may not make the shift until even later. The shift of their head and lowering into your pelvis takes some of the pressure off your diaphragm.


Once you give birth, your progesterone and other hormone levels will quickly plummet. As your body stabilizes itself back to your pre-pregnancy states, your breathing should return to normal. But (there’s always a but) it can take up to six months for your rib cage to shrink back to normal.  


When To Worry About Shortness Of Breath During Pregnancy

First, remember, if you don’t have any other alarming symptoms, your breathlessness is completely normal. Pay attention to your body for any other symptoms that seem unusual.


Being tired is normal in pregnancy but if you feel excessively tired, coupled with shortness of breath and heart palpitations, seek a doctor’s advice. These may be signs of anemia. Anemia makes it difficult for your body to adequately supply oxygen to yourself and the baby. You may also feel lightheaded, more so than usual.


Mention to your doctor if you have a history of asthma. The changes to your body during pregnancy can make asthma symptoms worse, even if you haven’t had any issues in a while. It may be safer to control your asthma with medication during pregnancy than it is to leave it untreated.


Shortness of breath can be caused by a number of other symptoms that are unrelated to pregnancy but may occur while you are pregnant. Though much less likely, congestive heart failure, a blood clot or respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia or the flu can all play a role in your breathing. Always address any concerns with your doctor. Keeping track of your symptoms and their frequency can help your physician have a better understanding of what is going on.


Office On Women's Health, Pregnancy complications, April 2019.

MedlinePlus, Common symptoms during pregnancy, August 2018.

KidsHealth.orgWhy Do Some Pregnant Women Have Trouble Breathing?, October 2016.

Wiley Online Library, Shortness of Breath During Pregnancy: Could a Cardiac Factor Be Involved? August 2015.

Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, Shortness of Breath in Pregnancy, May 2015.

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  • Mariah Hammond
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