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Causes of shortness of breath during pregnancy

by Alivia Nyhan
Published: Last Updated on

Without a doubt, women experience many changes during pregnancy. Some who do not even imagine when they decide to become pregnant, such as the difficulty that some experience in breathing. Actually, feeling short of breath is a very common feeling in pregnant women.

In fact, about two-thirds of pregnant women feel short of breath. If you are thinking about getting pregnant, you will surely be interested to know if shortness of breath is normal in pregnancy? At FastlyHealwe answer this question.

Shortness of breath: pregnancy symptom

During pregnancy the mother’s body must adjust to meet the requirements of the baby and the mother. These needs are varied and range from nutritional requirements to space, because as the baby grows it will occupy more space in the mother’s womb, which will leave less space for the organs themselves .

Of course, the way in which all changes occur is a perfectly synchronized system, orchestrated by the hormonal system that causes the necessary adjustments in the mother’s body for the fetus to develop correctly. None of this goes unnoticed by the mother, who will have to adapt although sometimes some symptoms are unpleasant, such as the feeling of suffocation.

Although it may seem strange, the respiratory system undergoes many adjustments that produce a number of symptoms in pregnant women, including the sensation of shortness of breath . This sensation is normal and increases in the last trimester of pregnancy . Actually, all this is related to the need to guarantee good oxygenation of the fetus and the mother for the proper development of the baby.

Is shortness of breath normal in pregnancy?

Women, during pregnancy, even if they are totally healthy, may experience the sensation of shortness of breath. This happens to two-thirds of pregnant women . Different reasons are at the origin of this condition and only in certain cases is it linked to conditions prior to pregnancy.

Throughout this period, many changes are triggered in your body, designed to protect you and promote the growth and development of the baby. Pregnancy is a time of transformation. Your respiratory system can also change as your pregnancy progresses. Among the causes of shortness of breath in pregnancy we find some normal and others that can be serious. Here we talk about the main ones:

Hyperventilation due to hormonal changes

It is known that the levels of sex hormones affect the breathing of pregnant women. That is, the increase in estrogen and progesterone in pregnancy is responsible for alterations in breathing in the first months of pregnancy. These hormones are thought to stimulate certain receptors in the brain to provide the baby with more oxygen but make the mother feel like she doesn’t have enough air.

According to certain studies, between 60 and 70% of women suffer from hyperventilation due to these hormones. Increasing the frequency of breathing appears the sensation of shortness of breath or agitation. What actually increases is the volume of air inhaled and the body is processing oxygen and carbon dioxide more efficiently.

Diaphragm elevation

As the pregnancy progresses, the baby takes up more space. The uterus grows and takes space away from the other organs, which move and compress. The diaphragm rises under the pressure of the abdomen, reducing the space of the lungs , especially in the last trimester of pregnancy. At this stage almost all women report shortness of breath. This feeling of shortness of breath is completely normal.

When you lie on your back this sensation increases as the diaphragm rises even more. Also if you have eaten a very large meal, then the stomach also compresses the lungs. In the case of twins or multiple pregnancies, the sensation may be worse because the abdomen will be larger, generating more pressure. When the baby sits in the pelvis there may be a feeling of relief as the pressure on the diaphragm decreases.


The need for iron is greater during pregnancy, precisely to improve the oxygenation of mother and baby. In general, a normal diet does not cover iron requirements and it is necessary to consume many foods rich in this trace element or take a supplement. The iron deficiency is very common and in some countries can reach 80% of pregnant women.

Anemia caused by iron deficiency generates a feeling of fatigue and shortness of breath. So when the feeling of suffocation is very strong, it is important to rule out that it is not an iron deficiency in the blood. In the following FastlyHealarticle we explain the tips to prevent anemia in pregnancy .

Venous thromboembolic disease

Pregnant women are five times more likely to suffer from “venous thromboembolic disease,” that is, to form abnormal clots that can lead to pulmonary embolism. One of the symptoms caused by these clots in the lungs is shortness of breath, in addition to chest pain, increased heart rate and fever. This condition is severe and must be treated with blood thinners , as it can be fatal.

Bronchial asthma

If you already suffered from this disease before, during pregnancy asthma can worsen , so it should be kept under medical control and surveillance. The asthma severe during pregnancy endangers the mother and the baby. This is why it is recommended to continue with asthma treatment even during pregnancy.

How to relieve shortness of breath in pregnancy

Perhaps at the beginning, when you have the feeling that you are short of breath, you feel a little fear but try not to worry because this feeling is very common. The first thing you should do is try to take things easy and not make physical efforts that demand more than what makes you feel comfortable. Then there are some postures and changes that you can incorporate into your routines to lessen the feeling of choking. Here are the best tips on how to relieve shortness of breath in pregnancy :

  • Maintain an upright posture with your shoulders well back, giving the diaphragm room so the lungs can expand more comfortably.
  • At bedtime, the choking sensation may worsen. It is advisable to sleep on the left side and place pillows so that the head and even the torso are higher.
  • Be patient and focus on what is a fleeting sensation that will disappear when the baby is born.
  • Walk calmly in the open air to better control your breathing. You can also exercise your breathing by doing conscious and controlled breaths.
  • Eat small portions at each meal, even if you eat more meals a day.
  • Maintain regular bowel movements to empty the intestines and prevent gas from building up.
  • Not smoking is mandatory as it is harmful to the baby and reduces the capacity of the lungs.
  • Clean environments with sufficient humidity are favorable, as are steam rooms.
  • Maintain a balanced diet rich in iron to avoid the risk of anemia.

Shortness of breath in pregnancy: Does it affect the baby?

In the case of feeling a lot of suffocation and not finding relief in any way, it will be advisable to consult with your specialist, as it could be a condition that needs medical attention and that could end up affecting the baby. As we have already told you, this is normal and not only does it not affect the baby , but it is partly done so that the baby is better. However, it is important to be vigilant if you suffer from asthma or have flu-like symptoms. In general, asthmatic women, prior to pregnancy, report in 30% of cases that this condition worsens and in some cases it can become dangerous for the mother and the baby.

For their part, diseases of the respiratory system affect pregnant women more strongly, who become more complicated and can suffer from pneumonia. It is important to be attentive to colds and flu and to try to avoid as much as possible coming into contact with sick people. You should go to the doctor whenever any of these symptoms appear :

  • I choke very hard or despair for not receiving air.
  • Worsening of asthma.
  • Accelerated pulse and arrhythmias.
  • Paleness or changes in the color of the skin of the lips, fingers, or toes.
  • Chest pain or pain when you breathe.
  • Cough, fever, chills, or bloody sputum.

In certain cases, the sensation of suffocation can be an indication that the pregnant woman has anemia, that is to say that the iron levels are very low. As iron is responsible for transporting oxygen in the body, if there is little iron, the distribution of oxygen is altered. This condition can be verified through a blood test.

Other rare causes can lead to shortness of breath during pregnancy. As in cases of severe anemia, this carries a risk of heart failure . It can also be a symptom of a damaged heart valve. On the other hand, conditions such as pneumonia, bronchitis or a pneumothorax cause shortness of breath and are accompanied by other symptoms such as fever and cough.

Before these symptoms consult your doctor immediately. While choking is normal during pregnancy, pregnant women can usually control it. If not, seek help.

This article is merely informative, at FastlyHeal .com we do not have the power to prescribe medical treatments or make any type of diagnosis. We invite you to see a doctor in the case of presenting any type of condition or discomfort.

If you want to read more articles similar to Is shortness of breath normal in pregnancy? , we recommend that you enter our Pregnancy and baby health category .

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