Dyspnea is the medical term for shortness of breath.
It’s the sensation of not being able to take in enough oxygen. You may have acute chest tightness or a need for oxygen. You may feel uneasy and fatigued as a result of this.
Breathlessness is common in the first trimester of pregnancy, due to increased hormone levels and the need for extra oxygen.
Continue reading to understand why pregnant women experience breathlessness, what it signifies, and what you can do about it.
During pregnancy, up to 70% of all pregnant women have mild to severe shortness of breath.When you’re pregnant, you’re no longer merely giving your body oxygen.
Your baby, the placenta, and your uterus will all benefit from it. That implies your body now requires 20% more oxygen than it did before you were pregnant.
The enlarging uterus pressing higher on the lungs, as well as hormonal changes, are among the causes.
Dyspnea during pregnancy is typically innocuous. More significant pregnancy issues, on the other hand, might cause breathing problems in certain women.
Unless there is an underlying reason that necessitates medical intervention, treatment mainly consists of home remedies.
This article will look at the causes and progression of shortness of breath during pregnancy. It also discusses coping tactics and when a person should seek medical help.
Is it common to feel out of breath during pregnancy?
Breathlessness is a typical occurrence during pregnancy. Shortness of breath affects two out of every three pregnant women at some time throughout their pregnancy.
In your first or second trimester, you may begin to feel out of breath. Being overweight might exacerbate your shortness of breath.
If your fitness level is low or you have a history of smoking, you’re also more likely to feel out of breath. Even if you were a lean, fit, non-smoker before to pregnancy, changes to your body as a result of normal pregnancy might leave you gasping for air.
Normal pregnant breathlessness develops over time and should not cause you to cough or choke. Even yet, the sensation might be frightening at first. Shortness of breath is referred to as dyspnea by doctors. It’s also known as “air hunger,” which refers to the sensation of a lack of oxygen. This gradual emergence of breathlessness in pregnancy is common and harmless, despite the fact that it may make you feel uncomfortable at times.
What causes breathlessness during pregnancy?
Nobody knows why breathlessness occurs so frequently during pregnancy. We know that each breath causes your lungs to move more air in and out, so it’s plausible that you’re feeling out of breath. It’s likely to be caused by a combination of hormonal and physical changes because it can start early in pregnancy.
Pregnancy hormones begin to alter the way your body functions early in the first trimester so that you can support the additional needs of your growing baby.
To fulfil your developing baby’s demands, pregnancy hormones (progesterone and oestrogen) improve your body’s capacity to breathe out carbon dioxide and breathe in oxygen.
Relaxin, another pregnancy hormone, relaxes the ligaments in your ribs, changing the contour of your chest. Early in the first trimester, your chest expands and you may find it difficult to get into your tighter-fitting clothes.
As your pregnancy proceeds, these changes assist your lung capacity to stay the same or expand, but how they effect your breathing will vary from person to person.
The size of your developing baby might also leave you breathless as you near the conclusion of your third trimester.
At this stage, your womb (uterus) really begins to push up into the muscle that sits under your ribcage (diaphragm), which then presses on your lungs. You’ll probably feel some breathlessness at this stage if you haven’t before, especially if you’re carrying your baby high.
Shortness of breath is a relatively typical occurrence during pregnancy. It’s not always easy for a doctor to specify a single reason, thus this is frequently misdiagnosed as a symptom of the pregnancy.
Because shortness of breath can occur as early as the first trimester, biochemical and mechanical changes associated with pregnancy are potential contributors. These causes might include everything from a developing uterus to changes in the heart’s workload.
Some pregnant women will detect abnormalities in their breathing practically immediately, while others will notice differences in their breathing throughout the second and third trimesters.
A fetus does not have to be very large to cause breathing changes in a pregnant person. From the first trimester, which lasts approximately through week 14, a person’s consumption of oxygen begins to increase.
The diaphragm, a muscular band of tissue that separates the heart and lungs from the belly, rises by as much as 4 centimeters during the first trimester of pregnancy.
The diaphragm’s movement helps the lungs fill up with air. While some people may not be aware of changes in how deeply they can breathe in, others may notice they cannot take full, deep breaths.
As well as changes in the diaphragm, pregnant people often breathe faster due to increases in the hormones progesterone and estrogen, both of which play an essential role in the fetus’s development. Progesterone is also a respiratory stimulant, meaning it causes a person’s breathing to quicken.
The amount of progesterone in a person’s body will increase throughout pregnancy. While breathing faster does not necessarily cause shortness of breath, some people may notice changes in breathing patterns.
In the second trimester
During the second trimester, which lasts until roughly week 28, many pregnant women may suffer more obvious shortness of breath. In a 1970s research, 31 percent of 62 apparently healthy pregnant women reported shortness of breath by week 19.
Shortness of breath is prevalent in the second trimester due to the expanding uterus. Breathlessness can also be caused by changes in the way the heart works.
During pregnancy, the volume of blood in a person’s body grows dramatically. To carry this blood through the body and to the placenta, the heart must work harder.
The increased workload on the heart can make a pregnant person feel short of breath.
Breathing may become easier or more difficult throughout the third trimester, which begins around week 29, depending on the position of the developing baby’s head.
The baby’s head may feel as if it is beneath a rib and pressing on the diaphragm before it starts to spin and sink farther into the pelvis, making breathing even more difficult.
This sort of shortness of breath commonly happens between weeks 31–34, according to the National Women’s Health Resource Center. Shortness of breath may be accompanied by a dry cough that persists.
If a pregnant person is experiencing severe shortness of breath, it is essential for them to speak with a doctor.
While pregnancy changes can cause some breathlessness, other medical conditions can also contribute to the problem. These include:
- Asthma: If you already have asthma, pregnancy might make it worse. People with asthma should see a doctor about safe treatments, such as inhalers or medicines, while pregnant.
- Peripartum cardiomyopathy is a kind of heart failure that can develop during pregnancy or soon after delivery. Ankle edema, low blood pressure, weariness, and heart palpitations are some of the symptoms. Many people mistakenly believe their symptoms are caused by pregnancy, although the disorder can have major consequences for a person’s health and frequently need treatment.
- A pulmonary embolism happens when a blood clot becomes lodged in one of the lungs’ arteries. An embolism can cause coughing, chest discomfort, and shortness of breath, all of which can make it difficult to breathe.
How can I get rid of my shortness of breath?
Try standing erect and taking deep breaths while holding your hands above your head to give your lungs more room.
Walking or swimming, for example, may make you feel a little puffy while you’re doing it, but it might help you feel less breathless in the long run. While exercising gently, you should still be able to carry on a conversation.
Being active while pregnant is both safe and healthful. While you move, your baby will get enough of oxygen. Call your midwife or GP right away if you are severely out of breath before exercise or after simply a short amount of exertion.
Some women find that they feel more breathless after finishing a large meal or when they lie on their backs. Eating smaller meals more often and lying on your side when sleeping or relaxing may help with this.
How long will I be out of breath?
When your baby travels down into your pelvis, you may have breathlessness until you’re almost ready to give birth. When the baby’s head engages, the strain on your diaphragm is relieved.
If this is your first pregnancy, your baby will most likely engage around 36 weeks. If you’ve already had a child, your baby may not engage until the last few weeks of your pregnancy or until you’re in labor.
After you’ve had your baby, the levels of the hormone progesterone plummet, returning your breathing to normal within a couple of days, and relieving the pressure on your diaphragm and womb.
However, it can take six months for your ribcage to change back. Even then, the base of your ribs will always be a little wider than they were before you became pregnant.
Will my shortness of breath have an impact on my baby?
Feeling out of breath during pregnancy is quite natural and won’t damage your baby as long as you don’t have any other concerning symptoms.
Even though it doesn’t feel like it, you’re breathing deeply and effectively to ensure that your kid receives the oxygenated blood they require.
When should I be concerned about shortness of breath?
Pregnancy that is normal In the first or second trimester, dyspnea develops gradually. It shouldn’t hurt and shouldn’t be followed by additional symptoms like coughing or wheezing.
Tell your doctor or midwife if you have sudden breathlessness or breathlessness with other symptoms. It’s possible that there’s something else that needs to be addressed.
Low iron levels (anemia)
Your body has to work harder to provide enough oxygen for you and your baby, particularly if you’re carrying more than one baby. This can sometimes cause your iron levels to drop. Your midwife will check your iron levels at your routine booking appointment and again at 28 weeks. But if you have tiredness, headaches, or you’re pale, as well as feeling breathless, ask your midwife about checking them again.
Pre-existing conditions, such as asthma, or more unusually, a heart condition
If you have asthma, the risks to you and your baby of not controlling your asthma are much greater than the risks of taking asthma medication during pregnancy. Keep your inhaler handy and always carry it with you when you leave your home. You may find that you need to use it more than usual during your pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about the best way to manage any underlying health conditions during pregnancy.
Other risks include damage, blood clots (pulmonary embolism), and fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema)
It’s essential to see a doctor right once if your breathlessness has suddenly appeared, is worse at night, or is accompanied by wheezing.
Even if your doctor or midwife has told you that nothing is wrong, shortness of breath might cause anxiety. Learn how to deal with anxiety during pregnancy.
Complementary treatments can help you relax when you’re pregnant, which can help you breathe easier. Acupuncture is one of the natural therapies for dyspnea.
Taking Care of Shortness of Breath
Shortness of breath is unpleasant and might impede a person’s physical activities. There isn’t enough evidence to suggest particular dyspnea therapies during pregnancy. There are, however, a few general actions pregnant women may take to make breathing easier, including:
- The uterus will shift away from the diaphragm as much as possible if you maintain excellent posture. Pregnancy support belts might make it simpler to maintain excellent posture. These belts may be found at specialist stores and on the internet.
- Sleeping with pillows supporting the upper back allows gravity to draw the uterus down and open up more space for the lungs. In this posture, leaning slightly to the left can also assist keep the uterus away from the aorta, the main artery that transports oxygenated blood throughout the body.
- Practicing standard labor breathing methods, such as Lamaze breathing. These strategies can be used throughout pregnancy to assist a person apply them during childbirth.
- Listening to the body and slowing down when needed. It is crucial to take breaks and rest if breathing becomes too difficult. In the later stages of pregnancy, a person may not be able to do the same level of physical activity as before.
When should you see a doctor?
Mild shortness of breath is normally unproblematic and has little impact on the amount of oxygen given to the baby.
Breathing problems might become more severe during pregnancy. If you have a respiratory problem, such as asthma, talk to your doctor about how to treat it throughout pregnancy.
If your breathlessness gets severe, occurs unexpectedly, or interferes with your capacity to function, contact your healthcare practitioner straight soon.
When many women experience some shortness of breath while pregnant, some symptoms necessitate medical attention.
Pregnant women should seek medical attention right away if they experience any of the following symptoms:
- blue lips, fingers, or toes
- heart palpitations or extremely high heart rate
- pain when breathing
- severe shortness of breath that seems to be getting worse
If shortness of breath is really troublesome or if it occurs for the first time, a doctor should be consulted. To rule out a blood clot as a possible reason, the doctor may order imaging tests, such as ultrasounds of the legs.