Doctor Desk: Does Breathlessness in Pregnancy affect the baby?

breathlessness in pregnancy


Breathlessness in pregnancy is a common occurrence. Around 75% of pregnant women experience breathlessness at some point, even if they have experienced no breathlessness before.

In the first or second trimester, the mother may start to feel some breathlessness. There are a number of body changes that happen during pregnancy (which are an adaptation to carry the baby).

Body changes

At the start of pregnancy,  the hormone progesterone also changes the way the mother’s body absorbs oxygen in her bloodstream via her lungs. As a result of the progesterone, the mother’s body becomes more sensitive how much of carbon dioxide she breathes out. The capacity for oxygen processing also goes up. The mother is breathing more deeply while breathing at the same rate as before pregnancy. Due to the deeper breathing, the mother may feel breathlessness in pregnancy.

As the pregnancy advances, As a result of progeterone mother’s ribcage moves up and outwards. The reason the lungs moves upward is to give more space to the uterus. The upward lung displacement is roughly 4 cm. However, lung capacity may not decrease much because of expansion of the mother’s chest. This way, the lung capacity does not go down by much but helps increase space for the baby.

At the third trimester, the baby starts to grow much larger. This can make the mother much more breathless. The mother’s uterus pushes upwards into the muscle under the ribcage (diaphragm). Therefore, this ends up pressing on the mother’s lungs, and ends up in breathlessness.

When should I visit my doctor

While breathlessness in pregnancy is common, there are other symptoms that call for a visit to the doctor:

  • Chest pain
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Feeling like fainting
  • Difficulty breathing when the mother is lying down

Breathlessness or tiredness can also be a symptom of anaemia (low iron). Due to the lower iron, the mother’s body works harder to provide enough oxygen. Asthma can also be a risk and warrants a discussion with the doctor for possible medication.

Effect on baby

Breathlessness has no detrimental effect on the baby.

How to overcome breathlessness

  • Stand as straight as you can, proper posture gives your lungs a little more room to breathe.
  • Sleep propped up on your left side.

breathlessness in pregnancyDr Mamta Pattnayak

MBBS , MD – Obstetrics & Gynaecology
Gynecologist , Obstetrician , Infertility Specialist
14 Years Experience
Fortis Memorial Hospital, Gurgaon
Aro Health, Gurgaon