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Why am I short of breath now that I'm pregnant?
You may be out of breath now because you need more oxygen during pregnancy, and your body adapts to meet this need in several ways. Rising hormones, particularly progesterone, directly affect your lungs and stimulate the respiratory center in your brain. And although the number of breaths you take per minute changes very little during pregnancy, the amount of air you inhale and exhale with each breath increases significantly.
Being short of breath in early pregnancy may feel more like a heightened awareness of the need to breathe. Later in pregnancy, your breathing might feel more labored as your growing uterus puts pressure on your diaphragm – especially if you are carrying your baby high, are pregnant with multiples, or have excessive amniotic fluid.
Shortness of breath during pregnancy can also be aggravated by a preexisting condition, such as asthma, anemia, or high blood pressure.
You may get some breathing relief a few weeks before you're due, especially if it's your first pregnancy, because this is when the baby often drops into your pelvis as labor approaches (called lightening).
What can I do about shortness of breath during pregnancy?
If you're feeling a little breathless, try these tips for relief:
- Take things a bit more slowly and don't push yourself too hard when being active.
- Sit up straight and keep your shoulders back (especially when sitting) to give your lungs as much room as possible to expand.
- Prop yourself up a bit with a few extra pillows when you're in bed at night.
- Try to be patient. It's no fun to be uncomfortably out of breath. But after you give birth, your breathing will soon feel like it did before you were pregnant.
Could shortness of breath during pregnancy ever indicate a serious problem?
Sometimes – especially if you have another respiratory problem, such as asthma or the flu.
For example, in about 30 percent of women with asthma, their symptoms get worse during pregnancy, and severe bouts could be harmful to both you and your baby.
Let your provider know if you feel short of breath because of a respiratory illness, like the flu. Pregnant women with respiratory illnesses often have more serious symptoms and are more likely to develop complications, such as pneumonia. (That's why it's important to get a flu shot if you're pregnant during flu season.)
Also, because of changes in the way your blood clots during pregnancy, you're at higher risk for developing a blood clot that goes to your lungs (pulmonary embolism). This condition is rare but very serious.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Call your provider right away (or have someone else call) if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Sudden or severe shortness of breath
- Worsening asthma
- Rapid pulse
- A rapid or irregular heartbeat
- A feeling that you're going to faint
- Chest pain or pain when you breathe
- Blue-tinged lips, fingers, or toes
- A sense of apprehension that you're not getting enough oxygen
- A persistent cough, a cough along with fever or chills, or coughing up blood
Call 911 or go to the emergency room if you can't reach your provider.
- Pregnancy symptoms never to ignore
- The flu vaccine during pregnancy
- If you get sick during pregnancy