Breathlessness in pregnancy

Find out why you're suffering from breathlessness in pregnancy, whether it's 'normal' and what you can do to help relieve this symptom.

Is breathlessness in pregnancy normal?

Surprisingly, shortness of breath is actually very common during pregnancy with most women reporting this side effect to some extent. However, while breathlessness is most common during the latter part of pregnancy, it's not unusual to experience it earlier on in the first and second trimesters too.


Why?


Any breathless you experience in the first or second trimester is likely to be a result of the pregnancy hormones affecting your respiratory system. 'Pregnancy' hormones such as progesterone stimulate your lungs to adapt to your body's changing needs and help your body to process oxygen and carbon dioxide more efficiently.

During the latter part of your pregnancy any breathlessness you experience is more likely to be a result of your expanding uterus pressing upwards on your diaphragm and restricting the capacity of your lungs. Once your baby engages and drops down in preparation for birth you should feel your breathing return to 'normal'. This tends to happen from 36 onwards for first pregnancies but not until just before the birth for subsequent pregnancies.

It is worth bearing in mind that anemia can sometimes cause breathlessness as it affects your red blood cells' ability to circulate oxygen around the body. If you are suffering with breathlessness and haven't been tested for this iron-deficiency related condition it may be worth mentioning it to your midwife.

How can I prevent breathlessness during pregnancy

While there is no way to completely prevent breathlessness during pregnancy, there are a number of 'lifestyle practices' that you can adopt to help reduce the incidence and discomfort of this side effect. These include:

  • Taking it easy - Difficult as it may be, try to take things a little more gently when you're pregnant particularly if you're suffering with breathlessness. Don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it and take time out if you're feeling tired.

  • Eating a balanced diet - Being overweight can make breathlessness worse so trying to eat a healthy, balanced diet with lots of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and lean protein and little fat, sugar and salt, will help you to keep your pregnancy weight gain on track and breathlessness to a minimum. Eating a diet rich in iron (red meat, leafy greens, pulses, dried apricots and dark chocolate are all good sources) and vitamin C will also help to boost your reserves and reduce the likelihood that you'll suffer from anemia related breathlessness.

  • Taking some gentle exercise - Walking, practicing yoga, swimming or doing any other form of exercise that encourages you to breathe deeply will help to relieve breathlessness. Taking some gentle exercise on a regular basis will help to improve your overall fitness and enhance both the capacity and efficiency of your lungs.

  • Sitting up straight - Give your lungs as much breathing space as possible by sitting up straight with your shoulders back so that they are able to expand to full capacity without too much exertion. If you find that you suffer with breathlessness when you're lying in bed, try propping yourself up with a couple of pillows as this may help you to feel more comfortable.

  • Focus on your breathing - Spend a few minutes each day sitting quietly and calmly and focusing on inhaling and exhaling to your lungs full capacity.

How to treat breathlessness in pregnancy


If you suffer from an attack of breathlessness the best thing to do is to stop whatever you're doing, try to stay calm and focus on breathing in and out deeply until your breath returns to normal. Getting some fresh air will also help.


Will it harm my baby?

Although it may not feel like it, your breathing automatically becomes deeper during pregnancy as your ribcage and lungs expand further to take more air on board. Your respiratory system also becomes more efficient at circulating the air you breath in around your body, so rest assured that your baby will be getting a sufficient supply even if you're feeling out of puff.


When should I be worried?

Light breathlessness is completely normal and isn't something that you should be concerned about. However, if you experience severe breathlessness, chest pains, palpitations, faintness, a rapid pulse, worsening symptoms of asthma or hyperventilate you should contact your doctor straight away.


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