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Feeling Short Of Breath (Breathlessness) During Pregnancy

6 min read

Mild breathlessness is quite common in the course of pregnancy. Actually, shortness of breath is considered as one of the earliest signs of pregnancy. While some expecting mothers come up with breathlessness right from the first trimester, some others experience it in the last trimester. Generally, there is nothing to be worried about breathlessness. Yet, it is best to check with your specialist, because several underlying issues can bring about shortness of breath. This article will help you to see more about breathlessness during pregnancy.
Breathlessness in pregnancy

What Causes Breathlessness During Pregnancy?

Breathing troubles in pregnancy emerge for the most part because of the adaptation the body of the mother is subjected to, for bearing the baby within her womb. The usual causes that bring out breathlessness during different stages of pregnancy are:

Breathlessness During The First Trimester Of Pregnancy

The first trimester of pregnancy can cause you to huff and puff due to the below reasons:

  • Expanding ribcage: The ribcage begins to widen to increase the capacity of the lungs. This is to meet the increased requirement of oxygen for different cells during pregnancy. The expecting mother can feel mild breathlessness during this stage of pregnancy
  • Pregnancy hormone progesterone: Increasing levels of progesterone during pregnancy make you breathe more often. This is because progesterone increases the lung capacity. Thus, more oxygen is absorbed into the blood stream. Apparently,the body has to breathe out excess carbon dioxide – the major byproduct of respiration. This overload of the lungs can lead to shortness of breath
Breathlessness During The Second Trimester Of Pregnancy

Breathlessness in the second trimester of pregnancy can be due to:

  • Increased number of deeper breaths: As the levels of the pregnancy hormones increase, they also cause an increase in the numbers of deep breaths (to absorb more oxygen)
  • Swelling of capillaries: Along with the expansions of blood vessels, the capillaries of the respiratory tract also swell up, making you feel the sensation of breathing hard
  • Increased blood volume: The increasing blood volume increases the workload of the heart. Thus, you have to breathe more frequently (even if you are not in any ‘action mode’), for absorbing more oxygen into the blood
Breathlessness During The Third Trimester Of Pregnancy

Most women experience shortness of breath during the third trimester, primarily because of the:

  • Growing uterus: During this phase of pregnancy, the uterus starts to push upwards pressing against the diaphragm, which then pushes the lungs making it expand less. At this stage, normally most of the mothers feel breathlessness even if they escaped from it during the first and second trimesters, especially if the child is positioned ‘high’ in the uterus. Not to mention if you are carrying twins or more!
  • Excess amniotic fluid: Excess amniotic fluid during the third trimester leads to breathlessness. The mother may not be able to breathe properly if she is not in an upright position
  • Fast breathing: As the lungs are not able to expand, to meet the requirement of oxygen, the mother has to breathe faster even if she is taking rest. This will make the mother experience shortness of breath

Anyway, towards the end of the third trimester the mother can be able to breathe easier as the child will drop deeper into the pelvis making its way to this world. This will decrease the pressure of the uterus on the diaphragm decreasing the chances of breathlessness.
Breathless woman

Are There Other Conditions That Can Cause Breathlessness During Pregnancy?
  • Anemia: In the event that you are experiencing an iron deficiency, your RBC count (red blood cells (RBC) carry oxygen from lungs to rest of the body and return carbon dioxide from the body to the lungs) will be low. Therefore, the body has to put more effort to supply oxygen to you and your infant. Breathlessness is one of the vital signs of anemia
  • Asthma: Asthma is a lung disease caused due to the tightening up of the airways, making the breathing laborious. Tighten in the chest, shortness of breath and wheezing are vital signs of asthma. Pregnancy can trigger preexisting asthma and furthermore, it is found that by one means or another pregnancy creates asthma among moms who have no history of an asthmatic attack (pregnancy-induced asthma)
  • Tachycardia: Tachycardia alludes to an unusually fast heart rate. A pre-existing tachycardia can get worse in the course of pregnancy. It is common the pregnant women develop tachycardia amid their gestation period as their heart works arduously
  • Tight chest: Along all the reasons that cause breathlessness, the growing breasts which presses against your chest muscles, may bring about both pain and weight in your chest
Why Am I Experiencing Breathlessness At Night?

It is not uncommon for breathlessness to be even more severe at night. If your infant is lying on the major blood vessel (vena cava), it can prompt shortness of breath. This is the body’s mechanism of warning you that blood going to the heart is being blocked. Due to this, the amount of carbon dioxide in your bloodstream is more than the amount of oxygen, causing breathlessness. The uneasiness you experience due to this breathlessness will lead you to change your sleeping position, allowing for an undisturbed blood flow. The following tips will help you to ease this issue:

  • Put on a cozy maternity bra when you go to bed
  • Sleep on your left side to maintain the blood and oxygen supply to yourself and infant
  • Lay down with your head raised on more than one cushion
What Causes Breathlessness During Pregnancy After Having Food?

Towards the last trimester, the uterus bloats up to its most. As it does that, the uterus tends to press against the stomach. If you eat a full stomach, the filled stomach applies more pressure to the diaphragm (than the semi filled or unfilled one). It can also lead to breathlessness.You cannot leave the stomach unfilled. You have to eat well during pregnancy. Therefore, follow these tips:

  • Make sure that you are sitting up straight, or standing while having a meal. Always eat small portions of food
  • Take deep breaths between bites or sips while having food, to ensure that your blood stays oxidized

shortness of breath

When Should I Seek Medical Attention For Shortness Of Breath During Pregnancy?

As we already discussed above, feeling breathless during pregnancy is quite normal. However, experiencing any other serious symptoms along with breathlessness can be an indication of some serious underlying issues. Therefore, never hesitate to seek medical attention if:

  • Heartburn, increased pulse rate, irregular heartbeat, bluish tinge on fingers and toes accompanies the breathlessness, it could be an indication of cardiac or pulmonary issues
  • Chest pain accompanied with shortness of breath requires immediate medical attention and you should call your doctor right away.
  • If breathlessness happens along with cough, you should consult your doctor
  • If shortness of breath is accompanied by dizziness, vomiting, severe headache, and blurred vision, it can be the sign of preeclampsia or high blood pressure
  • Fever and chills occurring with breathlessness can be serious and you should call your doctor immediately
  • Paleness and fatigue along with shortness of breath can be the indication anemia
How Can Shortness Of Breath Be Treated During Pregnancy?

There is no so-called treatment for shortness of breath during pregnancy (if there are no underlying issues). Nevertheless, there are some tips, which may help you to breathe easier.

  1. Changing postures: When you feel breathless, shift to a posture that makes you breathe easier. Sitting or standing up straight will help. These positions offer your lungs more space to expand
  2. Breathing exercise: Breathing exercises can raise your rib cage, encouraging chest breathing. Starting early in your pregnancy, breathing exercise will improve the efficiency of both the respiratory and circulatory systems
  3. Try not to overdo: Whatever you are doing, let it be just strolling around, or doing housework, take as much time as is needed. Also, react to your body’s signs to back off or give up completely
  4. Lift the arms above the head: This will help to take off the pressure from your rib cage, helping you to breathe in more air
  5. Practicing yoga: Practicing yoga will help to have a better control over breathing
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