Shortness of Breath During Pregnancy: Possible Causes

During pregnancy, a woman may experience breathlessness like difficulty catching her breath after carrying out simple tasks.

An estimated 60 to 70 percent of women experience shortness of breath during pregnancy, according to a 2015 study.

According to doctors explanation, shortness of breath during pregnancy is caused by the growing uterus pushing upward on the lungs and making it hard to breathe.


Though shortness of breath is a common symptom of pregnancy, it is not always possible for a doctor to identify one single cause. Shortness of breath during pregnancy appears to be caused by different factors, ranging from the growing uterus to fluctuations in the demands on the heart.

READ ALSO: What is Agonal Breathing?

Some women may notice changes in their breathing almost immediately, while others see differences during the second and third trimesters.

First trimester

A fetus does not have to be large to cause breathing changes in a pregnant woman. A muscular band of tissue that separates the heart and lungs from the belly (diaphragm), rises by as much as 4 centimeters during the first trimester of pregnancy.

The movement of the diaphragm helps the lungs to get filled up with air. While some women may not be aware of changes in how deeply they can inhale, others may notice they cannot take deep breaths.

Apart from changes in the diaphragm, pregnant women often breathe faster due to increases in progesterone.

READ ALSO: Pregnancy and Genital Herpes

Progesterone plays a vital role in the development of the fetus. It also causes a person’s breathing to quicken. The amount of progesterone in a woman’s body will increase all through pregnancy.

While breathing faster does not necessarily cause shortness of breath, some women may notice changes in breathing patterns.

Second trimester

In the second trimester, pregnant women may experience more clear shortness.

The growing uterus contributes to shortness of breath in the second trimester. However, some changes in the way the heart functions can also cause breathlessness.

The amount of blood in a woman’s body increases considerably during pregnancy. The heart has to pump harder to move this blood through the body and to the placenta.

The increased amount of work on the heart can make a pregnant woman feel short of breath.

Third trimester

During the third trimester, breathing may get easier or more difficult depending mainly on the position of the developing baby’s head.

Before the baby begins to turn and drop further into the pelvis, the baby’s head may feel as if it is under a rib and pressing on the diaphragm, which can make it difficult to breathe.

According to the National Women’s Health Resource Center, this type of shortness of breath usually occurs between weeks 31 and 34.

Additional causes

If a pregnant woman is experiencing severe shortness of breath, it is important to see a doctor. Though pregnancy changes can cause some breathlessness, but other medical conditions can also add to the problem. These include:

  • Asthma: Pregnancy may make existing asthma symptoms to deteriorate. Anyone with asthma should see a doctor about safe treatments during pregnancy, such as inhalers or medications.
  • Peripartum cardiomyopathy: This condition is a type of heart failure that can occur during pregnancy or immediately after child delivery. Symptoms include low blood pressure, ankle swelling, fatigue, and heart palpitations. The condition can seriously affect a woman’s health and often requires urgent medical attention.
  • Pulmonary embolism: This occurs when a blood clot gets trapped in an artery in the lungs. An embolism can intensely affect breathing and cause chest pain, coughing, and shortness of breath.

How to cope

Feeling short of breath can be uncomfortable and limit the physical activity of a pregnant woman. Fortunately, as a pregnant woman, there are several steps you can take to make breathing more comfortable:

  • Sleep with pillows to support your upper back. This can allow gravity to pull the uterus down and give the lungs more space. Slanting slightly to the left in this position can also help keep the uterus off the aorta, the major artery that moves oxygenated blood through the body.
  • Practice good posture to allow the uterus move away from the diaphragm as much as possible. Pregnancy support belts can make practicing good posture easier.
  • Practicing breathing techniques commonly used in labor, such as Lamaze breathing. Practicing these techniques during pregnancy may help a woman use them during labor as well.
  • Listen to the body and slow down when need be. It is essential to take breaks and rest if breathing becomes too hard. A woman may not be able to do the same level of activities as before in the later stages of pregnancy.

When to see a doctor

Though some women experience shortness of breath during pregnancy, some symptoms require treatment. Pregnant women are advised to seek immediate medical treatment for the following symptoms:

  • blue fingers, lips, or toes
  • pain when breathing
  • severe shortness of breath that seems to be getting worse
  • wheezing
  • heart palpitations or very high heart rate

If shortness of breath becomes very disturbing or if someone experiences it for the first time, they should see a doctor.

Disclaimer: The content provided on is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical doctor or healthcare professional.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *