Shortness of breath is a common pregnancy symptom that can strike in the first and third trimester. In most cases, it is harmless and won’t affect how much oxygen your developing baby receives. (Your baby is breathing just fine, even though you may feel breathless sometimes.)
Shortness of Breath in the First Trimester
In early pregnancy, a few weeks after conception, the fertilized egg is furiously imbedding itself into the lining of your uterus. To support your pregnancy and ensure that your baby has a safe place to thrive and grow for the next 40 weeks, the hormones in your body surge.
The hormone progesterone increases, and it can make you have to breathe more often. Progesterone expands the capacity of your lungs, which allows blood to transport large quantities of oxygen to your baby.
This change can look and feel like shortness of breath. Don’t worry – it’s absolutely a normal pregnancy symptom to expect.
Shortness of Breath in the Third Trimester
In the third trimester, your uterus and baby are huge. Shortness of breath can occur, because your uterus takes up a lot of space in your belly. Your huge womb can push against the other organs in your body. Sometime between pregnancy week 31 and 34, the uterus will start to press on the diaphragm. This can make it difficult for your lungs to full expand. This pregnancy change can make you feel short of breath.
Most women get relief from their shortness of breath in the last few weeks of pregnancy, when their baby “drops” or descends into the pelvis to prepare for the labor and delivery process.
How to Cope with Shortness of Breath
Shortness of breath is very uncomfortable for the pregnant women that it affects. So how can you get relief from this annoying pregnancy symptom?
One way is to sit or stand up straight. When you slump, this can make it harder for your lungs to fully expand. Give your lungs more room and stand up straight (or as straight as you can.)
Another way to cope with shortness of breath is to slow down. Move slower, so that your lungs and heart don’t have to work as much. This can give you some relief from shortness of breath in pregnancy.
As funny as it sounds, sometimes lifting your arms over your head can help. This takes pressure off your rib cage, making it easier for your to breathe in more air.
Finally, you can take pressure off your lungs at night by sleeping propped up. Use a pregnancy pillow to prop up your upper body.
When to Call the Doctor about Shortness of Breath
Experiencing mild breathlessness is common in pregnancy. However, if you find that your shortness of breath becomes very severe, or the onset comes on suddenly, call your doctor as a safety precaution.
You should also contact your doctor if you notice chest pain, a racing heart, heart palpations, you feel very dizzy or faint, you cough up blood, or you notice any other strange symptoms. This can all be signs of a serious illness that needs to be looked at.