What is it? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What is breathlessness?

Breathlessness is a common side effect of pregnancy that affects up to 75% of mums-to-be. The pregnancy hormone progesterone is thought to be a main culprit as it changes the way your body absorbs oxygen. That's why you might feel breathless early in pregnancy before your bump is even having much of an impact.

Later in pregnancy, when your uterus has grown enough to push on your diaphragm, you might experience feeling breathless. This is because your diaphragm in turn starts to compress your lungs, so they just don't have the same capacity as normal. Most first-time mums get some relief from this when their babies' heads engage at around week 36. (This means the baby's head drops down into the pelvis in preparation for delivery.) If you've had a baby before, though, you might have to wait until nearer to the end of pregnancy for this to happen.

Breathlessness can also be a sign of anaemia, so it's important you get yourself checked out by a health professional if you experience it at any time without an identifiable reason.

Call 999 immediately if you have sudden difficulty breathing, pain or tightness in your chest or upper back, are coughing blood.  Although rare, these can be signs of a blood clot in the lungs called pulmonary embolism (PE) and need emergency treatment.

What are the symptoms of Breathlessness?

Symptoms are the sensation of being out of breath or not being able to fill your lungs with air properly.

What are the treatments and remedies of Breathlessness?

There aren't any medical treatments for breathlessness, unless it's caused by anaemia, when you'll probably be prescribed iron tablets. You can help yourself, though, by sleeping propped up with pillows at night; resting well supported with cushions during the day; practising pregnancy yoga (with a teacher to specialises in pregnancy) and doing some deep-breathing exercises.

This guide 

The information in this Bounty A-Z of Family Health is not a substitute for an examination, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, midwife, health visitor or any other qualified health professional. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor.

Bounty will not be held responsible or liable for any injury, loss, damage, or illness, however this occurs or appears, after using the information given on this website and in particular the A-Z of Family Health.

Further help


For health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the NHS offers call and web services. You can also visit NHS websites for services, health information and health news at nhs.uk 

  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 08454 242424, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net