pregnant woman at the beach

Shortness of Breath While Pregnant: What Can Help

By Marisa Iallonardo
Reviewed by Alyssa Quimby, M.D.
July 19, 2023

Maybe you’re walking upstairs or putting together the crib. And you notice it’s hard to take a deep breath. This is called shortness of breath, and it’s a common feeling during pregnancy.

What Causes Shortness of Breath During Pregnancy?

“Shortness of breath can happen in early pregnancy,” explains Kia Hollis, a certified nurse midwife at Mercy Medical Center’s Metropolitan OB/GYN in Baltimore. “The reason why is because your body is adjusting to increased demand of oxygen and blood—not only to yourself but also to the baby and the developing placenta.”

You might have more shortness of breath in the second trimester and third trimester. As the baby grows, the lungs get crowded and may not be able to fully expand. Plus, the growing baby puts “more pressure on your diaphragm, which also tends to cause more shallow breathing,” says Hollis.

Some people also experience aerophagia of pregnancy or “the air hunger of pregnancy.” This is when you feel like you want to suck in more air, says Abdulla Al Khan, M.D. Al Khan is a board-certified ob-gyn and director of maternal-fetal medicine and surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.

What Should I Do If I Feel Short of Breath?

If you’re short of breath during or after being active, rest. This can help your breathing return to normal.

If your breathing doesn’t improve, it might not be typical shortness of breath. It’s time to call your doctor or midwife.

You should also call your provider if you have shortness of breath when you’re not being active, says Al Khan.

It’s a concerning sign if you’re short of breath when you’re simply sitting or lying down. It’s also likely a problem if you’re waking up in the middle of the night gasping for air, says Al Khan.

​​Shortness of breath tends to gradually get worse over the course of the pregnancy. But if you experience a sudden worsening of this symptom, it’s important to call your provider and seek urgent care. This could be a sign of something more serious.

What Else Can Help Shortness of Breath During Pregnancy?

Hollis offers a few tips that may help reduce or prevent shortness of breath while pregnant:

  • Use pillows behind your head and shoulders at night. An upright position may help you get deeper breaths.
  • Sit or stand up straight. Good posture can also help give your lungs some space.
  • Avoid allergens. If you’re allergic to dust, mold, pollen or anything else, being around that allergen can affect your breathing. Also, avoid smoking and secondhand smoke.
  • Maintain healthy weight gain and activity. Ask your doctor or midwife how much weight gain and exercise is recommended for you.

Also, tell your provider if you have a history of asthma or COVID-19. These conditions “have been shown to make the respiratory system more sensitive or reactionary to the physiological changes of pregnancy,” Hollis says.

Any time you’re concerned about your ability to catch your breath, talk to your doctor or midwife. They can help make sure everything is okay, and help solve any issues.

You May Also Like: