Breath shortness of

Having trouble catching your breath? Many pregnant women experience mild breathlessness beginning in the second trimester. This is because your expanding uterus pushes up against your diaphragm — the broad, flat muscle that lies under your lungs. The diaphragm rises about 1/2 inches from its usual position during pregnancy. That may seem like a small amount, but it's enough to crowd your lungs and alter your lung capacity — the amount of air your lungs are able to take in.

At the same time, your respiratory system makes some adaptations to allow your blood to carry large quantities of oxygen to the placenta and to remove more carbon dioxide than it normally does. Stimulated by the hormone progesterone, the respiratory center in the brain causes you to breathe more deeply and more frequently. Your lungs will inhale and exhale 30 percent to 40 percent more air with each breath than they did before. These changes may give you the feeling that you're breathing hard or short of breath.

The larger your uterus becomes, the harder you may find it to take a deep breath because your diaphragm is pushing against the baby. A few weeks before you give birth, the baby's head may move down in the uterus (drop), taking the pressure off the diaphragm. When the baby drops, you'll find it easier to breathe. But this may not happen until the start of labor, especially if you've had a baby before.

Despite the discomfort of feeling short of breath, you don't have to worry that your baby isn't getting enough oxygen. Thanks to your expanded respiratory and circulatory systems, the oxygen level in your blood increases during pregnancy, ensuring that your growing baby is getting plenty of oxygen.

Prevention and self-care for shortness of breath If you're short of breath, try these tips:

• Practice good posture. It will help you to breathe better, both during pregnancy and afterward. Sit and stand with your back straight and shoulders back, relaxed and down.

• Do aerobic exercise. It will improve your breathing and lower your pulse rate. But take care not to overexert yourself. Talk to your health care provider about a safe exercise program for late pregnancy.

• Sleep on your side to help lessen the pressure on your diaphragm. Prop yourself up with pillows that support your abdomen and your back or use a total body pillow.

When to seek medical help for shortness of breath

While mild breathlessness is common in pregnancy, severe shortness of breath or breathing problems may indicate a more serious problem, such as a blood clot in a lung.

Call your health care provider immediately or go to an emergency room if you have:

• Severe shortness of breath along with chest pain

• Discomfort while taking a deep breath

• Rapid pulse or rapid breathing

• Lips or fingertips that seem to be turning blue

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