I sometimes feel short of breath now that I'm pregnant. Is this common?
Yes, many women experience this sensation as their pregnancy advances. You may even notice it early in pregnancy, although at that stage it's more often sensed as a heightened awareness of the need to breathe.
You need more oxygen during pregnancy, and your body adapts to meet this need in several ways. An increase in hormones, particularly progesterone, directly affects your lungs and stimulates the respiratory center in your brain. And while the number of breaths you take per minute actually changes very little during pregnancy, the amount of air you inhale and exhale with each breath increases significantly.
Later in pregnancy, as your growing uterus puts pressure on your diaphragm, your breathing might feel more labored – especially if you are carrying your baby high, are carrying multiples, or have excessive amniotic fluid .
You may get some relief a few weeks before you're due, especially if it's your first pregnancy. This is when some women experience lightening (the baby dropping into the pelvis).
Is there anything I can do about feeling short of breath?
This feeling is usually harmless and normal. But it's a good idea to take things a bit more slowly and remember not to push yourself too hard when being active.
Sit up straight and keep your shoulders back, especially when sitting, to give your
lungs as much room to expand as possible. When you're in bed at night, propping yourself up a bit with a few extra pillows might give you some relief.
Once you give birth, your breathing will soon go back to feeling like it did before you were pregnant.
Could shortness of breath ever indicate a serious problem?
Yes. For example, if you get a respiratory illness such as asthma or pneumonia, it can be more serious when you're pregnant. This is why it's important to get a flu shot if you're pregnant during flu season.
Also, because of changes in blood clotting during pregnancy, you're more at risk for a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot that goes to your lungs). This is rare but very serious.
Shortness of breath that comes on suddenly or becomes severe could be a sign of a serious medical problem. Seek medical help immediately.
You should also get help right away if shortness of breath is accompanied by any of the following symptoms:
- Worsening asthma
- Rapid breathing
- A rapid pulse, heart palpitations, or faintness
- Chest pain or pain when you breathe
- A blue tinge around your lips, fingers, or toes, or if you look pale
- A sense of apprehension that you're not getting enough oxygen
- A persistent cough, a cough along with fever or chills, or coughing blood