Most people are familiar with the typical symptoms of pregnancy.
However, there are some pregnancy symptoms that aren’t so well known.
It can be worrying or confusing to experience them when they’re unexpected.
This article focuses on one of these symptoms – shortness of breath in early pregnancy.
How normal is it, and what possible problems could it represent?
Breathlessness in early pregnancy
As we know, some pregnancy symptoms are well known.
When a couple is trying to get pregnant, the following symptoms usually give a hint that conception has happened:
- Morning sickness or nausea
- Twinges in the lower tummy
- Light spotting
- Light cramping
- Missed period
- Bloating in the tummy
- Extreme tiredness
- Sore breasts
- Painful nipples.
Breathlessness during early pregnancy can also be a symptom, but one that’s less well known.
If you’ve been trying to conceive and feel like you can’t get enough air into your lungs, read on.
Can hormonal changes cause shortness of breath?
If you experience premenstrual syndrome, you know how much hormones can affect your body.
Throughout the menstrual cycle, hormones fluctuate and cause various symptoms.
For example, during ovulation, some women experience the following symptoms, due to higher levels of estrogen:
- Pinching in the area of one ovary
- Twinges in the uterus
- Increased appetite
- Increased sex drive.
After ovulation, the hormone progesterone begins to rise. The purpose of this hormone is to support pregnancy if the woman conceives.
Around 10 days after ovulation, if conception hasn’t happened, the level of progesterone starts to drop. This causes the changes in hormones we experience as symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
However, if a woman is pregnant, the level of progesterone keeps rising.
This rise causes the early pregnancy symptoms we have come to expect, such as tiredness, tender breasts, and bloating.
Progesterone, however, has another purpose.
It also works to increase the amount of oxygen brought into the lungs, by making you inhale and exhale more often.
This helps to give pregnant women and babies the increased oxygen they need.
How early in pregnancy does shortness of breath start?
Early on, you might feel as though you’re having trouble breathing or you’re unable to get enough air into your lungs.
This can be due to the increased level of progesterone. This causes the pregnant woman to breathe more quickly, and can lead to:
- Shallow breaths
But is this normal or something to be concerned about?
Midwife Sarah Smith cautions against taking this symptom lightly.
Although it may feel like a healthy symptom, Sarah says, “I would say shortness of breath in early pregnancy wouldn’t be normal”.
She says trouble breathing during pregnancy is much more likely to appear as a symptom later in pregnancy.
Later in pregnancy, air intake is generally affected by:
- The weight of the pregnancy
- Compression of the lungs due to the growing uterus
- The heart having to work harder, due to extra blood volume and extra physical demands
- Iron deficiency
- Pressure on the diaphragm
- Size of the baby
- Position of the baby.
These factors aren’t likely to be a part of pregnancy early on.
Shortness of breath 5 weeks pregnant
Some women experience this phenomenon of breathlessness during early pregnancy.
If the typical causes of breathing problems aren’t usually relevant during the first months, then what causes it?
It’s worth knowing the cause so that if it happens to you, you’ll know whether or not you should be concerned about your health.
If you’re short of breath, Sarah suggests it could be a sign of iron deficiency, or anemia.
“Women may start pregnancy being anemic, which could make them feel breathless, but they’re unlikely to suddenly be breathless if they weren’t, prior to pregnancy”.
Anemia means your body isn’t getting enough oxygen; this can affect your baby.
Some symptoms of anemia are:
- Being short of breath
If your body is already not getting enough oxygen and then changes to progesterone levels affect your oxygen levels, it can lead to an increase in the symptoms experienced.
Be sure to read Anemia In Pregnancy | Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment for more information.
Is shortness of breath in early pregnancy a sign of twins?
The increased physical demand on your body when you’re pregnant with twins can be extreme. Symptoms might be intensified, and those pregnant with twins are at greater risk of developing anemia.
Being short of breath is unlikely to be a sign of twins, but it could definitely be a side effect of growing more than one baby.
When should I be concerned about shortness of breath during pregnancy?
As well as the chance of anemia causing you to feel shortness of breath, there are other concerns.
Sarah Smith cautions: “Breathlessness can be a warning sign for blood clots, which certain women will be at higher risk of”.
Higher risk is related to:
- Raised BMI
- Reduced mobility.
If any of these apply to you, it’s worth speaking with your healthcare practitioner.
Some simple tests are likely to find the cause of feeling short of breath.
Although being short of breath might be a normal symptom and nothing to be concerned about, you could have another health condition that needs attention.
Pregnancy symptoms such as nausea, tiredness, and increased hunger are normal during pregnancy, but feeling breathless during pregnancy early on is more unusual.
Because of that, and because it can be a sign of more serious health problems, it’s worth looking into.
Shortness of breath before BFP
If you find yourself short of breath during pregnancy, it’s worth asking yourself whether this is a new symptom or something you had before you became pregnant.
Some non-pregnancy related causes could be:
- Being out of shape
- Heart or lung problems
If you found yourself frequently experiencing shortness of breath before pregnancy, it’s worth speaking with your doctor or midwife.
It’s important to check you and your baby are healthy and any existing health conditions are being managed.
Shortness of breath 10 weeks pregnant
This is normal at the end of pregnancy, with an estimated 70% of pregnant women experiencing it.
In late pregnancy, the growing uterus can make pregnant women feel breathlessness. The internal organs are being squashed, and baby leaves less room for the lungs to expand.
Obviously, this isn’t the case when you’re newly pregnant. At 10 weeks, your baby is about an inch long, about the size of a strawberry.
This is far from the watermelon-sized baby that makes it difficult to breathe later on.
Breathlessness during pregnancy early on could be a warning sign for serious health problems.
Is shortness of breath in early pregnancy dangerous?
Some serious conditions that shortness of breath could signal in early pregnancy are:
- Heart attack
- Blood clot
- Pulmonary embolism.
It’s important to seek medical help immediately if you experience any of these symptoms:
- Sharp pain in your shoulder
- Extreme dizziness or faintness
- Rapid pulse
- Heart palpitations
- High blood pressure
- Severe shortness of breath
- Numbness in the lips, fingers, or toes
- Chest pain.
How to overcome shortness of breath in early pregnancy
Some ways to reduce the feeling of breathlessness, if the doctor finds no underlying conditions, are:
- Maintaining good posture, which might help to give your lungs more space
- Practice slow breathing or meditative breathing
- Focus on filling your rib cage to capacity several times; this may help relieve anxiety.
Shortness of breath during pregnancy when lying down
It’s important to know the difference between pregnancy symptoms early in pregnancy and those in the second or third trimester.
The symptoms can be very different.
You might hear friends late in pregnancy talking about their inability to catch their breath, but it’s a different situation if you’re newly pregnant.
If you are lying down with a heavy uterus pressing on major veins, this can lead to dizziness and shortness of breath.
In early pregnancy, you don’t have that weight to worry about. If you feel short of breath while lying down in the first trimester, seek advice from your care provider to make sure everything is as it should be.
When to call my doctor about shortness of breath?
If you experience any changes or unusual symptoms of pregnancy, or you are in any doubt about what you’re feeling, seek medical advice from your healthcare provider.
Symptoms such as chest pain, rapid pulse, or numbness in your lips, fingers, or toes could signal a serious problem with your health and you should be seen immediately.