Shortness of Breath during Pregnancy

Shortness of breath is a fairly common condition during pregnancy in which you may experience a sensation in which you feel like you can’t breath or are suffocating. This condition is fairly common during pregnancy due to multiple significant changes the body undergoes during gestation.

What causes shortness of breath

Shortness of breath is mainly caused by an increase in the need for oxygen to compensate for your baby’s growth. The development of your baby causes a plethora of changes to your body, one of the more significant changes being hormonal. An increase of pregnancy hormones such as progesterone directly change the way that your lungs and the part of your brain responsible for respiratory function. Although this does not affect the frequency with which you breathe, it does change the amount of air you are inhaling and exhaling with each breath.

The symptoms of shortness of breath can manifest themselves differently throughout pregnancy. In earlier pregnancy, shortness of breath may feel like being more aware of the necessity to breath. As pregnancy continues, shortness of breath will feel increasingly like an actual difficulty to breath. This is due to your uterus expanding, and putting more pressure on the surrounding body parts, specifically the diaphragm. The diaphragm is located under the lungs and is the main muscle that controls breathing.

As your due date approaches, your shortness of breath will likely get better on its own. This is because the pressure on the diaphragm is relieved as the baby drops further into the pelvis as labor approaches.

Additionally, preexisting conditions like asthma, anemia, and high blood pressure can worsen shortness of breath.

Tips for relieving being out of breath

Living with shortness of breath can be challenging because of the difficulty it presents to doing physical activity and general, comfortable living. Although there are little properly researched treatments that can relieve shortness of breath long-term, there are things you can do to alleviate it temporarily.

  • Practicing Good Posture
    • Practicing good posture during pregnancy is crucial to taking pressure off the diaphragm and alleviating some of the symptoms of shortness of breath.
  • Breathing Techniques
    • Practicing breathing techniques during pregnancy can help build the resilience of the lungs and improve your ability to tolerate the increased strain on your diaphragm. It can also increase the amount of oxygen you take in while breathing, helping take away some of the need to take deeper breaths.
  • Sleeping Position
    • Sleeping with pillows supporting your upper back can help reduce the pressure your baby is putting on your lungs, giving them more space for you to properly breathe.
    • In the aforementioned position, tilting slightly to the left can keep pressure off of the aorta, the artery that moves oxygenated blood through the body, and thus increase oxygen circulation.
    • Combining these two tips can help facilitate more restful sleep and more energizing days. This will decrease the discomfort of breathlessness during pregnancy.
  • Knowing your limits
    • Not overstraining yourself and knowing your own limits during pregnancy is crucial. If you are doing something that is making you out of breath, try to take a break. Keep in mind that your level of physical activity will decrease as pregnancy continues.

When should I talk to my doctor?

Although shortness of breath during pregnancy is common, some symptoms can indicate that you need professional treatment.

Seek aid from a doctor if you are noticing these symptoms:

  • Unusual increase in heart rate or heart palpitations
  • Pain while breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Extreme breathlessness that grows continuously worse
  • Blue lips, fingers, or toes

Even without any of these symptoms, it is advisable to see a doctor if it is your first time experiencing shortness of breath during pregnancy. Your doctor may want to do imaging tests to make sure a blood clot is not the cause of your shortness of breath.

After delivery, your shortness of breath should resolve on its own. If it does not, seek attention from a doctor, as your breathlessness may be a sign of a post-partum condition.

For more guidance on pre-natal and post-partum health, contact one of our experts.


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