Shortness of Breath During Pregnancy: What to know

Shortness of breath is a common symptom experienced during pregnancy, affecting as many as 60-70% of pregnant women. While it is normal to experience some breathlessness, especially during the last trimester, it is important to determine the cause if it is persistent or accompanied by other symptoms such as chest pain or dizziness. Here is everything you need to know about it.

What causes shortness of breath during pregnancy?

It is often caused by the physical and hormonal changes that take place during pregnancy.

As the baby and the uterus grows, there is an increase in pressure on the diaphragm, the muscle that helps to control breathing. Other organs also get compressed, leaving the lungs with less room to expand with a full breath. This is known as dyspnea and can be uncomfortable, but it doesn’t cause any permanent damage.

As the pregnancy progresses, hormonal changes, such as increased levels of oestrogen and progesterone, can also cause breathlessness as they can cause the lungs to become less efficient at taking in oxygen.

How long does this pregnancy symptom last?

It usually subsides after a few weeks. Most women get relief from the breathlessness before childbirth as the baby’s head drops into the birth canal, allowing for more room for the diaphragm.

How to cope

To help cope with the symptom, it’s important to keep your body in a comfortable position when possible. Stand up straight, sit up tall, and sleep propped up on pillows.

Try to take deep breaths as this will help get enough oxygen into the blood as the blood volume is higher during pregnancy.

What else can cause breathlessness?

In addition to the normal physical changes associated with pregnancy, shortness of breath can also be caused by medical conditions such as anaemia, asthma, or respiratory infections. Your doctor may order tests to determine the cause and recommend treatment if necessary.

Anaemia, or a lack of iron in the blood, can cause shortness of breath as the body has to work harder to transport oxygen throughout the body. Treatment may include taking iron supplements.

Asthma can also cause breathlessness in pregnant women, as the hormones associated with pregnancy can increase the likelihood of an asthma attack. Treatment may include using an inhaler.

Respiratory infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia, can also cause breathlessness as they can cause inflammation of the airways. Treatment may include taking antibiotics.

In some cases, bed rest or a change in activity level may be necessary. With proper diagnosis and treatment, most pregnant women can manage their breathlessness and have a healthy pregnancy.

When to seek urgent medical attention

The following may be signs of a more serious condition such as preterm labour or a pulmonary embolism:

  • You experience persistent or worsening breathlessness.
  • It is accompanied by chest pain or dizziness.

If the breathlessness is more than just bothersome, doesn’t reduce when you change positions, or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms like pain, contact your doctor as soon as possible.


X click to search