Up to 70% of all pregnant women experience mild to severe shortness of breath during pregnancy.
When you become pregnant, you’re no longer just providing oxygen to your body.
You’re also providing it to your baby, the placenta, and your uterus as well.
That means your body needs about 20% more oxygen now than before you were pregnant.
So let’s take a look at shortness of breath during pregnancy and answer the 11 most frequently asked questions.
#1: What causes shortness of breath during pregnancy?
This can happen for a number of reasons, which we will cover below. In most cases, it’s a normal part of pregnancy, depending on which stage you’ve reached.
Keep reading to find out more about the different causes and symptoms you can experience in pregnancy.
#2: Is shortness of breath a pregnancy symptom?
Yes, it can be a symptom of pregnancy but it can also a sign of certain health conditions. Always check with your doctor or midwife if you had shortness of breath before falling pregnant and it has become worse since.
Wondering what shortness of breath during pregnancy feels like? You might notice a tight feeling in your chest or the sensation you can’t take a deep breath. You might also feel like you need to breathe more frequently or quickly, to get more oxygen.
#3: Is shortness of breath normal in first trimester?
The first trimester of pregnancy consists of the first 12 weeks. There are several reasons why shortness of breath during pregnancy happens during this time:
In the first 12 weeks, progesterone is responsible for some breathlessness. Progesterone increases your lung capacity, to allow you to take deeper breaths during pregnancy.
That probably sounds as though it would make breathing easier, right? Not quite. It actually makes your breathing more rapid as you try to fill your lungs more deeply.
This is your body’s way of getting you to take deeper breaths. It helps you get more oxygen to your baby.
Progesterone can also cause an irregular heartbeat, or heart palpitations. When the heart doesn’t beat at a regular rhythm, it’s difficult to receive the proper amount of oxygen. This can make you feel short of breath.
#4: What causes shortness of breath in the 2nd trimester?
This second phase of pregnancy consists of months 4, 5, and 6. It’s the phase when shortness of breath during pregnancy really becomes prominent. This is due to dramatic changes in your body that contribute to your ability to breathe properly.
Rapid heart rate
As you enter months 4-6 there’s a significant increase in blood volume. The increase is necessary to provide the growing baby with his own blood volume.
It also helps to deliver oxygen and nutrients efficiently through the placenta and to the baby. Since the heart has to work harder to pump more blood, this results in a rapid pulse for many women.
This rapid pumping, or tachycardia, can make you feel like you’re having trouble breathing.
As your uterus grows, breathing becomes more difficult. The extra pressure on your diaphragm, rib cage, and lungs reduces breathing room and leaves you feeling short of breath.
Also caused by an increase in blood volume, anemia often causes shortness of breath. When the blood volume increases, hemoglobin in your red blood cells is diluted.
Read more information in Anemia In Pregnancy – Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment.
Hemoglobin carries iron, allowing oxygen to bind to the red blood cells. When it’s diluted, less oxygen gets to your body’s organs. This makes you feel out of breath.
Higher levels of the hormone progesterone continue to cause shortness of breath during pregnancy. Progesterone not only causes rapid breathing but also creates swelling in the sinuses. This swelling results in a stuffy nose and will make you feel unable to breathe.
#5: What causes shortness of breath in 3rd trimester?
The third trimester is when pregnant women really start to notice shortness of breath. This is normal but it’s still important to keep an eye on it and report any concerns to your doctor.
Pressure and reduced space
During the third trimester, your uterus continues to grow significantly. It takes up more space and puts pressure on the diaphragm and lungs. The lack of space for the lungs to expand makes you feel you’re losing your breath during pregnancy.
If this is your first baby, you might get a breath of fresh air around week 37-38. The baby will soon drop into position for birth and you’ll have more room to breathe.
If you’ve given birth before, though, that lung space might not open up quite so soon. Second, and further, babies usually take up that space in your rib cage until labor begins.
High blood pressure
For some pregnant women, blood pressure sometimes becomes elevated. This is more common especially during the last 3 months of pregnancy. When blood pressure rises, the heart has trouble pushing blood to the lungs.
This can cause you to feel as though you need to breathe more deeply.
#6: Can shortness of breath in pregnancy harm the baby?
Frustrating as breathlessness might be, it isn’t bad for you or the baby.
Your baby will receive enough oxygen through the placenta. The frequency of being short of breath may feel bad for you, but it could be quite normal and not a health problem.
Blood clots are a different thing, and actually do pose a significant health concern.
In some situations, a blood clot might travel into your brain’s respiratory center, and cause difficulty in breathing at first, and then lead to seizures. Take this into account, and report any concerns to your doctor.
#7: Is it normal for a pregnant woman to have difficulty in breathing?
Breathing difficulty is a common problem during pregnancy, especially in the last 3 months. Your baby is taking up more room and your other organs are squished.
If you experience any worrying health problems, such as dizziness, faintness, or extreme fatigue, with shortness of breath during pregnancy, see your doctor as soon as possible.
#8: How do you fix shortness of breath?
There are a few things you can do to reduce shortness of breath during pregnancy:
- Eat a healthy balanced diet. Make sure you’re eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Eat plenty of leafy greens and foods rich in iron to increase your iron intake and prevent anemia.
- Water is very important for general wellbeing, concentration, and energy levels. Drink plenty and keep your electrolytes up.
- Maintain good posture. Keeping your back and shoulders straight gives your lungs a bit more room.
- Take it easy. If you’re feeling winded, sit down for a few minutes.
- Sleeping positions can help; try side-lying
- Change position. Sit or lie down in positions that open the front of your body.
- Practice breathing techniques. The breathing exercises taught in yoga classes, or in preparation for labor can help you breathe better.
- Even if it’s just a short walk around the block, exercise will help to expand the lungs.
#9: How much shortness of breath is normal during pregnancy?
Mild breathlessness can leave you feeling winded, or unable to catch your breath. Severe cases can leave you feeling as though you’re gasping for air, as if you just ran a mile
Both can be normal, but if breathlessness is accompanied by the danger signs, listed below, it’s time to seek medical advice from a doctor or midwife.
It’s very common for shortness of breath to become worse during pregnancy in women with asthma. This is due to the already constricted bronchioles in the lungs becoming even more constricted.
As parents, both you and your partner should at least be familiar with these symptoms, as it will be vital to you and your future kids.
#10: Is shortness of breath a sign of preeclampsia?
When combined with other symptoms of preeclampsia, shortness of breath can sometimes be a sign. However, shortness of breath during pregnancy is very rarely the only sign of preeclampsia.
For more about symptoms and signs, be sure to read Preeclampsia | Symptoms, Signs, And Causes.
#11: When should I be concerned about shortness of breath?
In some cases, breathing problems are indicative of more serious health problems.
During pregnancy, the risk for blood clots and pulmonary embolism rises. This is due to increased blood volume, rapid heart rate, and pregnancy hormones.
You should contact your doctor or midwife if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Blue tinge around your fingers, toes, or lips
- Feeling faint
- Persistent coughing
- Coughing up blood
- Worsening asthma
- Chest pain
- The feeling you are not getting enough air
- Worsening breathlessness or chest pain when you lie down.
You should also contact your doctor or midwife immediately if breathing becomes painful.