Is breathlessness in pregnancy normal?


by Mother & Baby |

There are a lot of symptoms that come with pregnancy, which differ between pregnant women. One of these, which you may not have been expecting is breathlessness and shortness of breath. We caught up with Obstetrician and Gynaecologist Dr Ellie Rayner to find out more.

Is it normal to be short of breath during pregnancy? 

Many women who are pregnant do find themselves feeling short of breath at some point and in the majority of cases, it is a normal part of pregnancy caused by the changes in your hormones and the enlarging of your uterus (womb), in your tummy as your baby grows. This causes your uterus to push up and into your diaphragm (the flat muscles that sit at the bottom of your rib cage that moves up and down as you breathe). These changes can make it harder for your lungs to fully expand, making you feel short of breath.

What causes breathlessness in pregnancy?

In the majority of occasions, there is no serious underlying cause and it is as a result of the normal changes your body undergoes during pregnancy, however breathless can be a sign of some conditions, such as anaemia (low iron levels), that may be require treatment to help relieve your symptoms, so it is important to mention it to your midwife or doctor. Rarer, more serious causes include chest infections like pneumonia, asthma, blood clots (pulmonary embolism) or heart disease so if your breathlessness is persistent, worsening or severe your healthcare team may recommend more investigations.

When does breathlessness in pregnancy start?

It can start as early as your second trimester, but most women notice some degree of breathlessness in their third trimester of pregnancy, from around 28 weeks onwards as your baby continues to grow.

How can I overcome breathless in pregnancy?

Many people worry it is a sign of something more serious, so it is important to not worry too much as in the vast majority of occasions it is a normal adaption of your body during pregnancy and your body makes other adaptions, such as increased blood volume to compensate. Take deep breaths, rest when you need to, and if exercising, still continue to, but make sure you can always complete a full sentence whilst doing so. Keep good posture, such as sitting upright to allow your lungs to expand as much as they can.

When can I expect breathlessness in pregnancy to end?

Some women find that their breathlessness can ease over the 2-3 weeks as they approach birth as your baby’s head engages and moves lower down into your pelvis, but not all women notice any difference.

When should I be concerned?

If you have a sudden onset of breathlessness, or difficulty breathing or feeling like you can’t catch your breath, any chest pain or tightness in your chest, if you notice blood when you cough, have palpitations or dizziness it is really important to call 999 immediately and get urgent medical attention. If you have a known underlying health condition such as a lung or heart disease then make sure you report any worsening of your symptoms to your GP, midwife or Obstetrician as they may want to adjust your medication.

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