Dealing With Shortness of Breath During Pregnancy

Julie Kirk
Pregnant woman having hard time breathing

In most cases, shortness of breath is considered a normal symptom during pregnancy. However, if your symptoms are excessive or you are experiencing additional symptoms that could indicate a problem, you will need to contact your doctor.

Shortness of Breath Symptoms

Many pregnant women will experience feeling short of breath during their pregnancy. Shortness of breath may be described in the following manner:

  • Feeling as if you are unable to expand your lungs enough to take in a full breath.
  • Chest feels heavy, as if a weight has been placed on your chest.
  • Breathing hard even though the activity required minimal exertion.
  • Being unable to do activities that were once easy for you.

Reasons You May Experience Shortness of Breath During Pregnancy

There are a number of reasons why you may feel short of breath at various stages of your pregnancy. These include:

Early Pregnancy and Hormone Changes

In the first trimester of pregnancy, your body will be adjusting to the hormone changes that are essential to the development of the growing fetus. Your progesterone levels will increase which can affect and increase your respiration rate. The faster breathing or changes in your breathing patterns can cause pregnant women to feel short of breath.

Second Trimester Growth

During the second trimester, you may experience shortness of breath as the uterus expands with the growing fetus. There is also a significant increase of blood produced in your body when you're pregnant. Your heart will be working harder to pump the blood through your body and to the placenta which can also cause you to feel short of breath.

Third Trimester Growth

In the third trimester, your baby and uterus will experience considerable growth and you may notice that breathing has become more difficult. This is due to the enlarged uterus pushing up on your diaphragm (the main muscle used in respiration located just below your lungs and heart). This pressure from the uterus will compress and limit the ability of your lungs to fully expand when you take in a deep breath. If you are carrying your baby high in the abdomen, the shortness of breath may be more intense.

Stress of Carrying the Baby

As you get further along in your pregnancy, the baby gets heavier and you gain weight. Your heart and lungs need to work harder to support the respiratory and circulatory system which can cause you to be short of breath.

What to Do When You Experience Shortness of Breath

During your pregnancy, especially as your belly expands, you may need to find ways to help alleviate the symptoms if you're short of breath. A few suggestions that may help include:

  • Don't slouch. Whether you are sitting or standing, you should maintain good posture.
  • Do some periodic stretching throughout the day. Raise your hands over your head, stretching upwards to temporarily allow more space for your lungs to expand as you breathe.
  • When sleeping, place pillows under your upper body to prop you up more. This will reduce the pressure on the lungs from the uterus.
  • Be aware of your breathing. Remember to inhale slowly and deeply.
  • A pregnancy massage may be necessary to relieve further tension.
  • Take a yoga class or find a pregnancy yoga video that pays special attention to breathing and relaxation techniques.
  • You should take it easy. Your body will let you know if you need to slow down or stop what you're doing. Be sure to pay attention to the signs.

What to Do if You Experience Chest Tightness With Shortness of Breath

You may experience chest tightness in pregnancy along with shortness of breath. It is not unusual to experience chest pain, tightness or discomfort when pregnant.

Reasons and Solutions

Reasons this may happen and what may help include:

  • Your ribs are likely widening as the pregnancy progresses, and you may want to change positions to help alleviate the pain.
  • Your breasts are increasing in size and will feel heavier, so you may want to consider getting fitted for a good, supportive bra.
  • If you have indigestion or heartburn, try eating smaller meals more frequently, avoid spicy foods and take walks after eating.
  • If you are dealing with stress or anxiety, you will want to discuss this with your doctor. Yoga and massage may help.

Potential Serious Issues Requiring Doctor Evaluation

A few of the more serious problems that may be associated with chest tightness and shortness of breath include:

  • Asthma attack
  • Lung infection
  • Blood clot
  • Heart attack

You should not hesitate to contact your doctor and/or go to the hospital to be evaluated.

Pregnant woman receiving pre-natal care

Additional Problems Requiring Emergency or Doctor Care

Even though feeling short of breath is a normal symptom of pregnancy, there are times when it is an indication of an underlying problem and you should call your doctor immediately. When to call your doctor:

  • If you already have a health condition prior to pregnancy, that affects breathing or your cardiovascular system
  • Asthmatic type shortness of breath where you are gasping for air
  • Chest pain, fever, or coughing
  • Heart palpitations
  • Bluish hands or feet

A Gentle Reminder

Normal shortness of breath during pregnancy should not affect the oxygen intake of your baby. However, being short of breath is a gentle reminder that you might need to slow down and take it easy in pregnancy. Get plenty of sleep, eat healthy, and stay within the normal weight gain for each trimester and you should go on to experience a happy and healthy pregnancy and birth.

Dealing With Shortness of Breath During Pregnancy