Q&A: What’s with the shortness of breath?

Growing a baby is hard work, which sometimes leaves us literally breathless. But why do we get short of breath in pregnancy and when is it a concern?

I’m 26+5 and being out of breath is becoming a real struggle. I’m finding it mostly at night. I’m getting to the point where I feel like I’m having a panic attack. I’ve tried relaxation techniques and it’s making me focus more on how restricted my breathing is, why am I so out of breath, and what can I do to help?

Rach, Mum's Grapevine Group Member

As your bub continues to grow, things start to get pushed around and room inside your body becomes a premium. Things like just going up a few steps or vacuuming a couple of rooms can leave you short of breath. It’s really common and usually starts in the second trimester, but can begin in the first 12 weeks as well. Here’s what you need to know about shortness of breath in pregnancy:

Shortness of breath in the first trimester

It may seem strange that a teeny tiny baby just starting to grow can leave you short of breath, but the changes happening to your body may be the culprit.

In the first trimester, your diaphragm can rise by up to four centimetres. The movement of your diaphragm is what helps your lungs fill with air and this is why you may feel like you can’t take a deep breath, even early on in pregnancy. Hormones can also play a part – an increase in progesterone can make you breathe faster.

Shortness of breath in the second trimester

As baby gets bigger, your heart works harder to keep blood pumping around your body, and this can lead to shortness of breath.

Of course, your uterus is also getting bigger, so that also adds to sometimes finding it hard to catch your breath.

Shortness of breath in the third trimester

Some mummas-to-be might actually discover they can breathe a little easier in the home stretch if the baby drops down further into the pelvis. But if but decides that it’s comfy a little higher, it may feel like everything is pretty squished and restricting your diaphragm.

What else could be causing shortness of breath in pregnancy?

While it’s very common in pregnancy, shortness of breath shouldn’t be dismissed as there can be underlying causes, including:

  • Asthma
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Peripartum cardiomyopathy

If you ever feel like your shortness of breath is severe or you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately:

  • blue lips, fingers or toes
  • wheezing
  • pain trying to breath
  • heart palpitations or high heart rate

How can I ease shortness of breath?

If you’ve ruled out any serious causes of your shortness of breath, there are a few things to try that may help make you more comfortable.

  • Try wearing a belly support band to help you sit up nice and straight.
  • Invest in a good maternity pillow for sleeping that supports your upper back, and sleep on your left side. Gravity will work to pull your uterus down and free up some room for your lungs.
  • Deep breathing techniques.
  • Taking a break from what you’re doing.

Sources: Medical News Today, What To Expect

Read next …

Wondering about some other pregnancy symptoms you’re experiencing? We have a huge archive of pregnancy health-related articles:

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