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Your pregnant body

  • Your body goes through major changes during pregnancy.
  • Hair, skin and breast changes are common.
  • Keep track of your weight gain during pregnancy.
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Shortness of breath

Most pregnant women feel short of breath both in early and late pregnancy. This is generally harmless and does not affect the amount of oxygen your baby gets.

Causes of shortness of breath during pregnancy

Early pregnancy

  • In the first few weeks of pregnancy, a normal increase in the hormone progesterone causes you to breathe more often.
  • This can look and feel like shortness of breath.
  • This hormone expands your lung capacity, allowing your blood to carry large quantities of oxygen to your baby.

Later pregnancy

  • As your pregnancy continues and the baby gets bigger, shortness of breath occurs as your growing uterus takes up more room in your belly.
  • Your uterus pushes on and shifts other organs in your body.
    Around the 31st to 34th week of pregnancy, the uterus begins to press on the diaphragm (the flat muscle that moves up and down when you breathe).
  • These changes may make it hard for your lungs to fully expand.
  • This may cause more shallow breathing, and you may feel short of breath.

End of pregnancy

  • During the last few weeks of pregnancy, you may have less shortness of breath when your baby settles deeper into the pelvis to prepare for birth.
  • With the baby in this position, some of the pressure on the lungs and diaphragm decrease.

What you can do
These tips may help you to breathe easier:

  • Sit or stand up straight. These positions give your lungs more room to expand.
  • Slow down. When you move more slowly, you lessen the work of your heart and lungs.
  • Lift your arms over your head. By taking pressure off your rib cage, you can breathe in more air.
  • Sleep propped up. To put less pressure on your lungs, prop up your upper body with pillows.

When to talk to your health care rovider
It's normal to feel a mild breathlessness during pregnancy. Talk to your health care provider immediately if your breathlessness becomes severe or comes on very suddenly. Also, call your health care provider right away if you have any of these symptoms:

  • A rapid pulse
  • Heart palpitations (your heart beats fast and strongly)
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Chest pain
  • Blueness around the lips, fingers or toes
  • A cough that doesn't go away
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fever or chills
  • Worsening asthma

Any illness that affects breathing can be more serious during pregnancy. If you have asthma, be sure to talk to your health care provider about how to best manage this condition during pregnancy. Your asthma may stay the same, worsen or improve during pregnancy. Women with moderate to severe asthma are at increased risk of an asthma attack during the third trimester of pregnancy and during labor and delivery.

August 2009

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you know you're pregnant?

Knowing the signs of pregnancy can help you tell if you’re pregnant. Here are some signs that you might be pregnant:

If you have any of these pregnancy signs and think you may be pregnant, go to your health care provider. The sooner you know you're pregnant, the sooner you can begin prenatal checkups and start taking good care of yourself and your growing baby.

Is my baby moving enough?

You'll start feeling your baby's kicks at around the 28th week of pregnancy. By this time, your baby's movements are usually well established and some health care providers recommend keeping track of these movements.

  • Track kick counts at about the same time each day when your baby is active.
  • Track kick counts shortly after you've eaten a meal (when your baby may be most active).
  • Sit or lay on your side, place your hands on your belly and monitor baby's movement.
  • Mark every movement down on a piece of paper. Don't count baby's hiccups.

Keep counting until you've felt 10 movements from baby. If baby doesn't move 10 times within 1 hour, try again later that day. Call your health provider if your baby's movement seems unusual or you've tried more than once that day and can't feel baby move 10 times or more during 1 hour.

When will I start feeling my baby move?

Popcorn popping. A little fish swimming. Bubbles. Butterflies. Tickles. These are common words used by women to describe their baby's first movements. Also known as "quickening," it's a reassuring sign that your baby is OK and growing. This milestone typically starts sometime between 18 to 25 weeks into pregnancy. For first-time moms, it may occur closer to 25 weeks, and for second- or third-time moms, it may happen much sooner.
At first it may be difficult to tell the difference between gas and your baby moving. You might not feel movement as early as you are expecting to feel it, but you'll notice a pattern soon. You'll start to learn when the baby is most active and what seems to get her moving.

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