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Breathing & Pregnancy

By Stephanie Crumley Hill ; Updated June 13, 2017

Breathing is one of those bodily functions we seldom think about until something changes its normal function. The hormonal changes of pregnancy cause many women to experience nasal stuffiness, and most women experience some shortness of breath, especially in the final months. The mild shortness of breath common during pregnancy is chiefly a minor inconvenience and discomfort.


During pregnancy, as your growing uterus expands upward, it presses against your diaphragm, which might be displaced by as much as 4 cm, according to the University of Cincinnati’s Net Wellness. This makes it increasingly difficult for your lungs to expand fully as your pregnancy progresses. Your reduced capacity, however, is offset by hormonal changes in the brain’s respiratory center that cause you to breathe more deeply. Your increased blood volume also makes sure that your baby receives plenty of oxygen.

Time Frame

Breathing difficulties are most common during the third trimester. During this time, the uterus grows to its largest size. This diaphragmatic pressure is usually relieved in the last few weeks just before delivery as the baby “drops” and begins to move into position for birth.


Hyperventilation is common during pregnancy, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Rapid breathing during contractions might cause hyperventilation. Symptoms of hyperventilation include tingling in the hands and fingers or feeling lightheaded or dizzy.


Changing your sitting and sleeping positions might make it easier for you to breathe by relieving pressure on the diaphragm. Keep your shoulders relaxed, back and down while you sit or stand straight. Try slightly elevating your upper body as you sleep. You might find supporting your growing uterus with a pillow while lying on your left side helps you relax and breathe more easily.


According to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, about 1 percent of pregnant women have asthma. During pregnancy, asthma worsens in some women and improves in others. How your symptoms change can also vary from pregnancy to pregnancy. Work closely with your doctor and follow your medication regimen carefully to minimize the chance of asthma attacks and other asthma-related complications such as preterm birth.


Although minor shortness of breath during pregnancy is not usually a cause for concern, there are some breathing problems that can indicate a serious problems. Symptoms that are cause for concern include discomfort or pain when taking a deep breath, any type of chest pain or rapid pulse and breathing. If you experience any of these symptoms, you contact your obstetrician or call 9-1-1 immediately.

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