3 Major Causes of Breathlessness During Pregnancy & When You Should Worry

Why causes breathlessness during pregnancy? There are actually a few reasons! Some are super obvious, but one is kind of surprising!  Find out what they are and when you should worry about it.

Why causes breathlessness during pregnancy? There are actually a few pretty logical reasons! Find out about this uncomfortable symptom of pregnancy!

Boy, I knew becoming a mom would take my breath away, but I never expected it to happen so literally…or so early! I imagined feeling breathless with joy the moment I saw my son, not out of breath just from getting out of bed in the morning during my first trimester! Breathlessness during pregnancy is super common, so chances are you’ll feel it at some point before your new bundle of joy arrives. Some women feel it as early as that first trimester, while others manage to hold onto their breath right up until closer to the end. Why does it happen? Let’s take a look!

What Causes Breathlessness During Pregnancy?

Short answer: pregnancy causes breathlessness because of your hormones, your growing body, or both. Let’s start with the obvious reason: your growing body.

1- Your ever-growing and expanding body

Remember how we talked about all the expansion that was taking place when we explained why you’re more prone to nosebleeds during pregnancy? Well, as I’m sure you know (or will soon discover), your circulatory system isn’t the only thing that’s growing! In case you missed the memo, you also have a whole little human being growing in your womb! Yeah, I know, you already figured that out, right?

So, here’s the thing. Your growing baby needs a ton of space. Space that is otherwise already occupied by your other organs. As your baby grows, your uterus screams “move over, coming through!” and rudely shoves all those organs out of the way. Organs like your lungs. Those poor squished lungs can’t operate at full capacity, so you start to feel breathless. It’s not that you’re not getting enough oxygen, it’s just that you can’t take as deep a breath as you’re used to.

2- Hormones wreaking havoc…as usual

Oh, hormones, how you love to wreak havoc! Pregnancy hormones are to blame for everything from mood swings to morning sickness, so it makes sense they’d play a role in making you feel breathless. One hormone in particular may be to blame. During pregnancy, your progesterone springs into action to get your body ready for all that baby-growing that needs to happen. One of those tasks: telling your brain to breath deeper to get more oxygen to all that extra blood your circulatory system created to accommodate your baby. While this is ultimately a good thing, your body may need to adjust.

3- Increased sensitivity to carbon dioxide

Another possible reason for breathlessness during pregnancy has to do with how your body feels about carbon dioxide. In junior high, we learned that we breathe in O2 and breath out CO2. Well, that’s not exactly the case. We breathe in both, but our lungs sort through the mess, keep the O2 and dump the CO2 back out when we exhale. During pregnancy, you may become more sensitive to that CO2 and feel the need to expel it asap. Then, of course, you need to breath back in some more O2. Ugh, there’s that CO2 slipping in again, get it out, fast! So on and so forth, making you feel like you’re taking shorter and faster breaths.

When should you worry about breathlessness during pregnancy?

First of all, remember that I’m not a doctor, so if you are even a little worried about your breathlessness during pregnancy, call your OB. It’s much better to overreact than under-react, and your doc is used to pregnant women calling up with questions about what’s normal and what’s not. In some cases, anemia is to blame for breathlessness, so your doc may want to check your iron levels anyway just to be safe.

You also want to talk to your doctor asap if you experience:

  • Swelling in your feet and ankles, especially if it is “pitting.” If you can press in on the swelling and the dent stays there, call your OB asap. DO NOT let them tell you it’s just normal pregnancy symptoms without being seen first. I called an on-call doctor for my pitting edema, she told me to put on some compression socks and relax. A couple of weeks later, I almost went into kidney failure and was giving birth to a 32-weeker via emergency c-section because of severe preeclampsia.
  • High fever, chills and a cough, as it may be a sign of the flu, pneumonia or other viral or bacterial infections.
  • Wheezing when you breathe. 
  • If you have a pre-existing medical condition, like asthma, that is getting worse. 

If you feel like you can’t breathe at all, or your shortness of breath is affecting your ability to function, go to the hospital. Breathing is crazy important, folks. I don’t have to tell you that! When you can’t do it, very bad things happen. If you’re turning blue, pretty please call 9-1-1.

For the most part, breathlessness during pregnancy is totally normal. It’s uncomfortable, but normal. When you get winded walking from your bedroom to the bathroom, just remember: it’s totally worth it since you get a super cute little human out of the deal.

Did you experience breathlessness during pregnancy? Share your tips for dealing with it!

15 thoughts on “3 Major Causes of Breathlessness During Pregnancy & When You Should Worry”

  1. Oyinkan Ogunleye

    You know, I never knew the cause of breathlessness during pregnancy. I just thought it’s women getting tired quicker.

  2. I have never had children so I have never experienced this, but I as an asthmatic I can definitely relate to how horrifying it is to feel like you cannot breathe.

    Tracy @ Ascending Butterfly

  3. Christy Garrett

    I remember always breathing hard towards the end of my pregnancies. It was always hard to take a deep breath because baby was big and lack of space in my belly.

  4. Eloise Maoudj Riley

    I would have loved to read this post when I was pregnant… I read everything to understand WHY I felt certain ways and certain things during my 1st pregnancy experience… love how you broke it down ; )

  5. The worst for me in several of my pregnancies was going up the stairs in our house with laundry. We have our laundry room downstairs, and every time I would go to bedrooms with clothing, I would get breathless.

  6. These is great information about feeling out of breath when pregnant. I am a Respiratory Therapist and you wound’s believe the amount of people who don’t think anything is really wrong when their breathing is out of whack.

  7. These are great tips!! I have never heard about breathlessness as a symptom of preeclampsia! We are thinking of starting our family soon so I will watch out!

  8. Interesting! I had no idea, and never would have thought about breathlessness. I’ve never been pregnant, but my sister has, and I’m going to ask her about her experience!

  9. Breathlessness is very common, but if it’s something different like the ones you mentioned above, one should see her OB immediately. This is a great resource for expecting moms.

  10. I remember being breathless during pregnancy. I never knew what caused it, though, I just was told it was normal.

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