Three quarters of all pregnant women will experience shortness of breath. Breathlessness can leave you feeling winded, or unable to catch your breath. A short stroll round the block can leave you gasping for air like an Olympian who has just passed the 100m finish mark.
During pregnancy, you need about 20 per cent more oxygen. You are now providing oxygen for your baby, the placenta and your uterus, as well as yourself.
The pregnancy hormone, progesterone, is responsible for some of your breathlessness. It increases your lung capacity to allow you to take deeper breaths during pregnancy. That sounds like it would make breathing easier, but in fact, you may find yourself breathless during the first trimester as your body adjusts to the changes.
During the third trimester, as your uterus continues to grow (and grow, and grow!), you may find yourself suffering from organ squeeze. While all of your major organs compete with the uterus over much coveted real estate square footage, you may find yourself short of breath. As the uterus expands, it puts pressure on the diaphragm, which in turns restricts the amount of room available to your lungs. Quite simply, you will find it harder to get a full breath.
If this is your first baby, things should start to improve around week 36. As the baby drops into position for birth, you will have a lot more room in your ribcage. Your lungs will be able to expand again, and breathing should become easier. If this is your second child, however, the baby might not drop until the very end of the pregnancy.
Catching Your Breath
Although it's nothing to worry about medically, shortness of breath can be annoying for pregnant women. If the giant bump and swollen ankles weren't already making you feel cumbersome, losing your breath on the way to the bathroom will. To reduce breathlessness during pregnancy, you should:
- Eat a healthy balanced diet. Being overweight can worsen breathlessness. Make sure you’re eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, especially leafy greens and are drinking enough water (h2O!). Water is very important for general wellbeing, concentration and energy levels.
- Maintain good posture. Keeping your back and shoulders straight should give your lungs a bit more room.
- Take it easy. If you're feeling out of breath, sit down for a few minutes.
- Sleep propped up on your left hand side.
- Practice breathing techniques. The breathing exercises taught in yoga classes can be useful for helping you to get your breath back.
- Lift your arms for short term relief. Reducing pressure on your rib cage, can allow you to breathe more easily.
Frustrating as breathlessness may be, it is not bad for you or the baby. Your baby will continue to receive enough oxygen through the placenta.
In some cases, however, breathing problems can be indicative of more serious health problems. You should contact your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- A blue tinge around your fingers, toes or lips
- Heart palpitations
- Fainting or feeling faint
- A persistent cough
- Coughing up blood
- Worsening asthma
- You feel that you are not getting enough oxygen
You should also contact your healthcare provider if breathing is painful, or if the breathlessness worsens when you lie down.