Navigating Shortness of Breath During Pregnancy

Shortness of breath can be one of the first symptoms people report when pregnant. In some circumstances, shortness of breath will come on as quickly as you get a positive on a pregnancy test, and in others, the shortness of breath comes on a bit later and worsens as the pregnancy continues. 

Why Am I Out of Breath?

The reason that so many experience shortness of breath at the simplest tasks, like taking the stairs or vacuuming the houseis because, during pregnancy, the amount of blood volume in a person’s body increases by 45% in pregnancy. This increase in blood volume requires the heart to do much more work pumping that blood, which can cause shortness of breath.

Should I Be Concerned?

Typical pregnancy shortness of breath is nothing to worry about. As stated above, it happens to almost every pregnant person and will return to normal once the baby is born and your blood volume returns to normal. In any case, you must communicate certain pregnancy discomforts to your care provider. Your care provider can give you ideas for combatting these ailments and let you know if something extends beyond usual.

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If the shortness of breath you’re experiencing is causing anxiety, a few ways to determine if it could be more serious include changing positions. If you change positions or rest from what you are doing and the breathlessness continues, it is an excellent time to contact your care provider. Another warning sign is if you develop sharp pains with shortness of breath, especially if this pain is in your chest. These are symptoms of heart issues and should be taken seriously. Lastly, if your heart is racing with the shortness of breath and you cannot get it to slow down, call 9-1-1.

Outside of regular pregnancy-induced breathlessness, some of the other things that could cause shortness of breath include the following: Asthma, peripartum heart failure, pulmonary embolism, and heart disease. If you are worried about your breathlessness, trust your gut and call your care provider. That is why you are paying them after all!

What Can I Do?

Sometimes, there are ways you can try to combat shortness of breath during pregnancy. These do not always work, but they may be worth a try. The first suggestion is to improve posture. Good posture helps make room in the diaphragm for your lungs to expand and fill fully. Sleeping with supportive pillows on either your left or right side is another good suggestion for helping with breathlessness. The pillow support can help gravity move your uterus down and give your lungs more space. Sleeping on your left side primarily, but occasionally, your right side also takes the pressure of back sleeping off your major artery that moves oxygenated blood throughout your body. If your body moves onto your back while you are asleep, do not panic; it would not allow you to move there if it was putting your baby or yourself at risk.

Most importantly, if you are experiencing shortness of breath, you can take it as your body’s way of telling you to slow down and rest. I believe our symptoms are messages from our body and our baby about their needs. Breathlessness is very likely due to your body needing more rest and less go go go.

Remember, as with anything in pregnancy, you know your body best. If something feels off, it is time to get checked out. Knowing that breathlessness can be a normal pregnancy symptom can ease much of the anxiety surrounding it because knowledge is power. If you feel you have time, you can troubleshoot with positional changes and breathwork to see if this is a symptom you can relieve yourself or if a higher level of care is needed. 

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