Shortness of breath during pregnancy

Pregnancy brings with it a whole variety of symptoms, from nausea to sore breasts, cravings to fatigue. Thankfully for most women, these symptoms tend to come in waves or occur at different stages of pregnancy, rather than for the full nine months! This is also true for another of pregnancy’s symptoms – shortness of breath.

From as early as the first trimester, you may notice yourself feeling a bit out of puff as you navigate the stairs at the tube station near where you work, or you might be finding your regular exercise class that little bit more difficult. While it can seem alarming, mild shortness of breath is normal, both in early and late pregnancy and you can rest assured that your little one will be well-oxygenated via the placenta. So, what are the causes of shortness of breath during pregnancy?

Causes of shortness of breath during pregnancy

In early pregnancy, hormones have a lot to answer for and an increase in progesterone causes you to breathe more frequently and more deeply as lung capacity is increased to facilitate the journey of oxygen to your baby via the blood. This can appear as a shortness of breath or a feeling of being a bit worn out after simply walking up a flight of stairs.

Later during pregnancy and in to the third trimester, your growing uterus takes up more room in your belly, pushing other organs into new positions and pressing on your diaphragm. This makes it harder for your lungs to expand to their pre-pregnancy levels, resulting in more shallow breathing and a feeling of being short of breath, particularly when doing anything physical.

Rest assured that you will still be getting enough oxygen as hormonal changes will encourage your body to take slower breaths, and your blood volume increases during pregnancy to ensure baby is get well-oxygenated.

You may find that towards the end of pregnancy, there is less pressure on the diaphragm and lungs as baby moves further down into the pelvis in preparation for birth, making breathing feel a little easier for the final weeks of your pregnancy.

Is there anything I can do about it?

Feeling short of breath during pregnancy is temporary and will pass, but in the meantime, take things easy when you need to, consider your posture so try and sit/stand up straight to give your lungs more space to expand, and use pillows to prop yourself on your left to help circulation at bedtime.

Pregnancy yoga can also be beneficial as gentle exercise can support correct posture, strengthen your muscles, and encourage you to breathe more deeply.

When to seek medical advice

If your breathlessness becomes severe or worsens suddenly, seek immediate medical attention, particularly if this is accompanied by other new or concerning symptoms such as feelings of dizziness, any chest pain or heart palpitations, a fever, or a rapidly increased pulse rate.

If you suffer from asthma, talk to your health care provider on how best to manage it during pregnancy. Breathlessness can also sometimes be caused by anaemia so your doctor or midwife may want to check your iron levels and discuss dietary changes or supplementation. 

Jen Dowding, Baby massage and baby yoga instructor, Basking Babies Laindon & Orsett

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