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Coping with shortness of breath in pregnancy

At first it feels frightening, then you get used to it, but getting out of breath in late pregnancy is no fun.

Posted: 30 March 2006
by Laura Lee Davies

Some women get short of breath in pregnancy as early as half way through their term, but for most women who suffer breathlessness, it comes along as their bumps grow.

At this point, it's easy to imagine that the uterus is putting pressure on the lungs and diaphragm and, after the first attack of gasping breathlessness, a pregnant woman begins to recognise its onset.

Ironically, during pregnancy, the body is better at using its oxygen supply and you shouldn't worry, if this happens to you, that you or the baby have a compromised supply of oxygen. However, it is at worst very worrying and at best plain uncomfortable.

If you find you get out of breath most often when you are seated, try standing up and taking deep breaths. Try, despite the attack, to stay calm or to relax by closing your eyes and thinking about something more serene.

If you suffer more when you are lying down, you might find it comes on as you are waking up in the morning and you need to sit up on the side of the bed. (Take care not to move too suddenly if you also suffer from pregnancy leg cramps as these can be set off when you spring to action without warming/stretching your calf muscles.) You can also try sleeping with your body more propped up if you find lying flat brings on breathlessness.

If you are in a car and you get an attack, try opening the window and letting the air rush into your face. Don't be afraid to ask the driver to stop and let you get out for a few minutes.

If the traffic air or the room you are in is stuffy, try to get somewhere with a basin so you can breath close to the freshness of the running cool water. If you are on the move, always make sure you have a bottle of water with you. (Even if you don't fancy drinking any, try dabbing some water around your mouth or just inhaling the air from the water bottle.)

CALL THE DOCTOR if the breathlessness is severe, causing rapid breathing (or hyperventilation), chest pains, or blueness of your lips or fingers.

Not all women suffer from breathlessness, especially if their bump is quite low throughout pregnancy, and many others find the problem eases off once the baby 'drops' down in the weeks leading up to the birth.

I had no problems with this condition at all with my son but with my daughter I suffered with breathlessness in the last two months of the pregnancy. (With him it was the swollen ankles!)
If I was walking along a street and it came on, I just stopped, leaned against something and let my breathing return to normal whilst trying not to panic. I do use mild inhaler treatment for asthma but this did not seem to be in any way related to that. However, I made sure I kept up my twice-daily inhalations so that other chesty conditions like hayfever and coughs would not aggrevate the breathlessness.

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Discuss this story

hi all,

does anyone else find they get breathless quite quickly compared to earlier in their pregnancy. even when im just walking im finding im running out of breath, just wondering if there are any other mums2 be who have had this? what will i be like by the time im full term!!


Posted: 08/05/2007 at 21:40

Hi Ali
Yes, I found I got it with my second child but not my first strangely enough. I found that I got it when I was lying down (in bed) and that I had to sit up and take deep breaths. Or I'd get it walking down the road and have to sto and lean against a wall.
It was worst during the ast six weeks or so, and then it passed after the birth. It would come and go n bouts but all I could do was just stop what I was doing, sit or stand and take deep breaths.
I will attach an article we have on the subject. Don't worry, it's nothing (though do mention it at your next check up) bad. But it is frustrating and is something which stops you in your tracks.
Laura (editor) x

Posted: 08/05/2007 at 21:48

Hi Ali,
I had it really bad in the latter part of pregnancy as i carried Tara quite high up -she was pushing everything up to my chest and throat - it got so bad at 37 weeks i was admitted for a week for bed rest as i fainted a couple of times too. The docs also found that my iron was very low which was also a contributing factor, as the iron carries round the oxygen in your blood - i would agree mention to the m/w at your next visit and keep an eye on your iron level. (I had 2 blood transfusions after the birth and have suffered no further ill effects)
Regards, Maddie

Posted: 08/05/2007 at 22:51

Hi Ali
I got a breathless with my second son from 26-34 weeks but i carried him quite high up. Once he dropped abit it all eased off.
Deff mention it to your midwife so she can check you out for you but I am sure it will be fine so don't worry. Always best to 'urr' on the side of caution with your health tho so don't feel you can't say. A worry is only a concern when it isn't dealt with!
If it turns out to be something they can help...if it turns out to be nothing it's put your mind at rest!

Posted: 09/05/2007 at 16:01

I have had bad breathlessness since i first got pregnant been checked out for clots in my lungs but that was clear but now i find when i eat i am unable to breath walking is almost something of the past and just sitting can sometimes be hard to breath i have heard this is normal as the baby is now pushing aggenst the diaphram but if its really hard for you maybe best seeing the doc sometimes it good to rule out clots because they are pretty common but so its breathlessness

Posted: 10/05/2007 at 09:57

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