6 reasons for shortness of breath during pregnancy

Huffing and puffing your way through pregnancy? Our expert tells you why and when you should worry…

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It is every mum-to-be’s dream to breeze through her pregnancy free of stress and any pain, complications or difficulties. However, in reality, your body will be going through a lot of changes and some of them will literally take your breath away.

The Obstetrics & Gynaecology Centre Novena’s ob-gyn, Dr Dharshini Gopalakrishnakone says breathlessness is a common issue which can start from as early as your first trimester. “It is only a cause for worry if you can’t speak in full sentences while talking at rest, feel giddy, nauseous and faint and have chest pains or appear to be turning blue.”

SmartParents expert and consultant ob-gyn at Gleneagles Hospital Dr Christopher Chong cautions, “If the shortness of breath occurs suddenly and leads to difficulties in breathing, not just breathlessness — then the patient should get to the hospital.”

“If the shortness of breath occurs suddenly and leads to difficulties in breathing, not just breathlessness — then the patient should get to the hospital.”

Sudden breathlessness, especially if it is accompanied by chest pains or a loss in consciousness, is worryingas it oud as the following life-threatening conditions could be causing these symptoms:

* Pulmonary embolism A blockage in an artery in the lungs caused by a possible blood clot that has moved from other parts of your body through the bloodstream.
* Amniotic fluid embolism A pregnancy complication that occurs when amniotic fluid or foetal cells, hair or any other substance make their way into your bloodstream.

* Cardiac arrest or a heart attack.

If you think that being short of breath only affects older expectant mothers — think again. Dr Dharshini notes, “[Even] the most athletic women can feel breathless in pregnancy as it is not entirely due to age.” Women who are less physically fit before they fell pregnant are also more likely to have breathing problems.

Here are possible easons for your shortness of breath…
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1) Your increased bodyweight Throughout the nine months of your pregnancy, a woman of average weight — a healthy BMI ranges from 18.5 to 22.9 — can expect to gain between 11.3kg and 15.9kg. The additional weight puts added strain on the body, which causes the shortness of breath.

2) Water retention Some women also suffer from oedema — a severe form of water retention — a common pregnancy problem. Dr Chong says that when your water retention affects your lungs and nasal sinuses, it can give rise to breathing difficulties.

3) A surge in pregnancy hormones Progesterone, in particular, tells your brain to take deeper breaths, so as to take in more oxygen for you and your foetus. This causes you to constantly feel out of breath, says Dr Dharshini.

Pregnancy hormones tells your brain to take deeper breaths, so as to take in more oxygen for you and your foetus. This causes you to constantly feel out of breath.

4) Anaemia Your body makes use of the current iron stores in your body to create the red blood cells needed to carry oxygen around your body. If you suffer from an iron deficiency, you’ll become anaemic. Your body will then need to work harder to provide enough oxygen for you and bubba, which sparks the breathlessness. Dr Dharshini explains that this is why all pregnant women will get high doses of iron supplements to build up their iron stores.

5) Your expanding womb Your uterus will continue to expand throughout your pregnancy to accommodate your growing foetus. Dr Chong says the enlarged womb prevents the diaphragm from fully expanding when you breathe. “This leads to the mum-to-be taking more short breaths and leaving her feeling breathless.” Your expanded uterus may lead to heartburn, which also contributes to lack of breath.

6) Lung infections, asthma or heart conditions These underlying conditions contribute to your breathing issues, so it’s best to see a doctor to resolve or manage these.

How can you manage it?

To cope with breathlessness after the first trimester, Dr Dharshini advises that you stick to a balanced diet and make time to do yoga or any form of pregnancy-safe exercises. Also, remember to take your iron supplements. To lessen your breathing issues, try sleeping on the left with your head in an elevated position.

Photos: iStock

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