Shortness of breath in pregnancy: Causes and treatment

Shortness of breath during pregnancy is one of the annoying symptoms women endure, which may cause the expecting mother some anxiety, stress, and discomfort. Shortness of breath may occur either in early pregnancy or during the last trimester. This article will review the most critical causes of shortness of breath during pregnancy and how to treat it.

Published on:Mar 19th 2024 |Updated on:Jun 10th 2024
اسباب ضيق التنفس للحامل وعلاجه

Is shortness of breath usual in pregnancy?

Some discomfort and difficulty breathing are expected during pregnancy. A medical study published in 2015 showed that 60% to 70% of pregnant women complain of shortness of breath during pregnancy. Shortness of breath may occur in pregnant women in the last trimester due to the pregnant woman's growing belly, which pressures the lungs; it can happen for several other reasons. Shortness of breath may occur in pregnant women in the first trimester because of hormonal changes and other reasons that we will review later. But don't worry; your baby can breathe because the oxygen the fetus needs reaches the placenta.

Causes of shortness of breath in pregnancy

1| Pregnancy hormones

Changes in hormone levels during pregnancy are pregnant women's first and most important cause of shortness of breath. Pregnancy hormones, especially progesterone, will stimulate breathing in your body, increase breathing speed, and produce additional amounts of oxygen sufficient for your fetus. These hormones also relax the lung muscles, which makes it difficult for you to breathe.

2| Growing belly

The pregnant woman's belly will grow as the uterus expands to accommodate the growing fetus. This puts pressure on the diaphragm and lungs, preventing them from expanding to the maximum and getting air to fill them. Therefore, pregnant women, especially in the third trimester, feel like they are running a long marathon just because they made a small effort.

3| Weight gain

Even if it is within the normal range, weight gain during pregnancy will cause your muscles to exert additional effort when you and your fetus move, and the extra kilograms will make you feel short of breath during pregnancy. Weight gain may be due to fluid retention in the body, which may affect the lungs and sinuses, causing breathing difficulty for pregnant women.

4| Anemia

The body uses iron stored in the blood to form red blood cells, mainly responsible for transporting oxygen. However, when a pregnant woman suffers from iron deficiency, the body will need additional effort to generate the oxygen that the mother and fetus need, which makes the mother feel short of breath.

5| Asthma

If the mother has asthma or other respiratory diseases, this may worsen during pregnancy and cause shortness of breath. Therefore, it is essential to control asthma symptoms through appropriate treatment which is safe during pregnancy and is prescribed by a doctor.  

6| Heart disease

If the mother suffered from any heart health problems before pregnancy, it may cause her several symptoms during pregnancy, including difficulty breathing. Pregnant women may suffer from cardiomyopathy at the end of pregnancy or after childbirth, and the pregnant woman with this disorder may develop symptoms, the most important of which are swelling of the ankles, acceleration of the heartbeat, and a drop in blood pressure. If you develop these symptoms, go to the hospital immediately for appropriate treatment.

7| Hypertension

Pregnant women may suffer from gestational hypertension, which is a pregnancy complication that may lead to preeclampsia. High gestational blood pressure symptoms include breathing problems, especially in the first months. Therefore, it is essential not to neglect the schedule of pregnancy visits. Especially in other months to detect and treat any possible complications.


  • Take it easy, do not put in too much effort, do your housework in stages, and take many breaks.
  • Maintain an upright posture while sitting and walking, as bending the shoulders will cause additional pressure on the lungs.
  • Choose a comfortable sleep position, put two pillows on, and raise your lungs to get more oxygen while sleeping.
  • Raise your arms above your head. This exercise helps expand the rib cage and get more oxygen.
  • Use a pregnancy belt, as this will help maintain your body position so that you get enough oxygen.
  • Do breathing and relaxation exercises.

When to see the doctor?

Go to your doctor's office or hospital emergency room if any of these symptoms appear:

  • Sudden shortness of breath.
  • The shortness of breath worsens.
  • Accelerated heartbeat.
  • Arrhythmia.
  • A feeling of suffocation.
  • Feeling dizzy.
  • Chest pain.
  • Sudden paleness.
  • The lips, fingers, or toes turn blue.
  • Persistent cough.
  • Cough accompanied by blood.
  • Feeling chills and high temperature.
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Omooma is the first Online platform offering classes in Arabic dedicated to mothers and mothers-to-be. In addition to content covering many relevant topics, women’s health, pregnancy, fertility, child’s health, and parenting. Omooma’s articles are written by medical writers, based on extensive research, and reviewed by a panel of experts who are part of the largest team of experts available in the region in all fields related to the journey of motherhood.

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