Catching Your Breath: Shortness of Breath During Pregnancy

Shortness of Breath During Pregnancy

Catching Your Breath: Shortness of Breath During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a time of profound physical changes, many of which can be surprising or uncomfortable. Shortness of breath is one such common pregnancy discomfort, particularly noticeable in the first and third trimesters. Understanding why this happens and how to manage it can help ease concerns and improve your overall comfort during pregnancy.

Understanding Shortness Of Breath In Pregnancy

The sensation of being short of breath during pregnancy stems from two main causes. In the first trimester, increased levels of progesterone boost your respiratory capacity, tidal volume, and respiratory rate. While this makes your lung function more efficient, it can also make you feel like you’re working harder to breathe. In the late third trimester, as your uterus expands, it can press against your diaphragm, limiting the lungs’ ability to fully expand and leading to shallow breathing and a feeling of breathlessness. Thankfully, this often improves once the fetus drops into the pelvis closer to delivery.

How to relieve and prevent shortness of breath in pregnancy

Improve Your Posture: Maintaining good posture can help open up your chest and allow for easier breathing. Try to keep your back straight and shoulders back when sitting or standing.

Lift Your Arms: When you feel short of breath, lifting your arms over your head can help expand your rib cage and increase lung capacity.

Sleep Position: Sleeping in a more upright position with the support of pillows can alleviate the pressure on your diaphragm and make breathing easier at night.

Stay Calm: Understanding that shortness of breath is a normal part of pregnancy can help reduce any panic or anxiety associated with this sensation. Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation to stay calm.

Gentle Exercise: Regular, gentle exercise can improve your overall fitness and make it easier for your body to cope with changes in breathing during pregnancy.

When To Call The Midwife

While shortness of breath is typically a normal aspect of pregnancy, certain symptoms accompanying this sensation warrant immediate medical attention:

  • Tachypnea: Rapid breathing that doesn’t improve with rest.
  • Constant Coughing: Especially if accompanied by mucus or blood.
  • Heart Palpitations: An irregular or fast heartbeat.
  • Chest Pain: Any sharp or persistent chest pain.
  • Fever or Chills: Could indicate an infection.
  • Faintness or Dizziness: Especially if it occurs suddenly.

Individuals with pre-existing conditions like obesity or asthma may experience more pronounced shortness of breath and should discuss any changes or concerns with their healthcare provider promptly.

Shortness of breath during pregnancy, though common, doesn’t have to be a source of constant discomfort. By adopting simple self-care measures and staying informed about when to seek help, you can navigate this challenge more comfortably. Remember, your healthcare team is there to support you through every breath of your pregnancy journey.

FAQs About Shortness Of Breath During Pregnancy

  1. Is it normal to feel short of breath during pregnancy?
    Yes, feeling short of breath is a common experience during pregnancy, especially in the first and third trimesters. Increased levels of progesterone and the physical expansion of the uterus, which can press against the diaphragm, contribute to this sensation. It’s a normal part of the body’s adjustment to pregnancy, but it can vary in intensity among individuals.

  2. Why does shortness of breath occur more in the first and third trimesters?
    In the first trimester, hormonal changes, particularly the increase in progesterone, cause an increase in respiratory rate and capacity, leading to a sensation of breathlessness. In the third trimester, the expanding uterus exerts pressure on the diaphragm, limiting lung expansion and leading to shallow breathing. This sensation often improves once the baby drops into the pelvis closer to delivery.

  3. What can I do to alleviate shortness of breath during pregnancy?
    Practicing good posture can help open up your chest for easier breathing. Lifting your arms over your head can also expand your rib cage and lung capacity. Sleeping in a more upright position with pillows for support may relieve pressure on your diaphragm. Gentle exercises, like prenatal yoga, can strengthen your respiratory system and improve breath control.

  4. When should I be concerned about my shortness of breath?
    While shortness of breath is common during pregnancy, you should contact your healthcare provider if it’s accompanied by other symptoms such as constant coughing, heart palpitations, chest pain, fever or chills, and faintness or dizziness. These could be signs of a more serious condition requiring medical attention.

  5. Can shortness of breath during pregnancy affect my baby?
    Typically, the normal shortness of breath experienced during pregnancy does not negatively impact your baby. Your body is designed to ensure that your baby receives enough oxygen. However, if shortness of breath is due to an underlying medical issue, it’s crucial to get it checked by a healthcare professional to ensure both your and your baby’s well-being.

Additional Resources about Shortness of Breath During Pregnancy

Jenni Jenkins Sekine Student Midwife

Jenni Jenkins – Sekine is an Oklahoma Student Midwife, Midwives Assistant, Birth & Postpartum Doula, and Child Birth Educator who serves her Central Oklahoma  community. She began her journey as a student midwife in 2022 at the Midwives College of Utah.

To learn more about Jenni, please click here.

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