Shortness of Breath

Feel as if you can't get enough air? This is common. In the last trimester of pregnancy, your expanding uterus pushes up against your diaphragm (the muscle under your lungs that contracts and relaxes in the breathing cycle). In fact, the diaphragm is moved up about 4 cm from its normal pre-pregnancy position. This means that you are unable to take in as much air with each breath. This does not mean, however, that you are getting less oxygen.

At the same time that your lung capacity decreases due to the physical constraint of an enlarging uterus, the respiratory center in the brain is stimulated by progesterone to get you to take deeper breaths. Although each breath may bring in less air, the air is sitting in the lungs longer so that you are better able to extract the oxygen from each breath. Not only are you oxygenating the blood more efficiently, but you have also expanded your circulatory system during the pregnancy to ensure adequate delivery of oxygen to your baby.

Warning Signs

if you feel pain with deep breaths, fast breathing, and a fast pulse, see your doctor immediately. There is a possibility that you have passed a blood clot to your lung (pulmonary embolism).

Shortness of breath can be uncomfortable, however. There are ways that you can breathe more comfortably:

  • Practice good posture. Make sure that you stand straight with your shoulders back and your head up.
  • Exercise. Aerobic exercise not only improves your breathing, but it also lowers your pulse. Make sure that any program you begin is approved by your physician.
  • Relax. The feeling of breathlessness gets better as you approach delivery. As the baby descends in the pelvis, pressure on the diaphragm is somewhat relieved.


Edema or swelling of the ankles and feet is a normal part of pregnancy. As body fluids increase, some of the fluid pools in the parts of the body most affected by gravity. Up to 75% of women experience edema during their pregnancy. For most of these women, warm weather, nighttime, and remaining in one position for any length of time contribute to swelling. To combat edema:

  • Wear support hose - either full pantyhose or knee-highs. Choose the size you would have chosen before you were pregnant. Put them on in the morning before you become swollen.
  • Avoid excessive salt intake, which can lead to fluid retention.
  • Drink plenty of water to flush out wastes and help reduce the amount of water you retain.
  • Tell your doctor if you notice swelling or puffiness in your face or hands. This can be a sign of preeclampsia, if accompanied by increased blood pressure, protein in the urine, and a rapid weight gain.