Women often have a heightened awareness of their breathing, have mild breathlessness or feel a slight shortness of breath in pregnancy. This is related to normal conditions of pregnancy, such as:
Added demands on the heart
Increased oxygen needs
Pressure of the growing uterus on the diaphragm
Shortness of breath after exertion is worse in women who smoke or are not physically fit due to a lack of exercise or sedentary lifestyle.
To keep or get in shape and build your stamina, do an aerobic form of exercise - like brisk walking, dancing, cycling, and swimming - at least ½ hour 5 times per week. If you’re not accustomed to exercise, start lightly and build up slowly. But, listen to your body, modify as needed and avoid overexertion. And, of course, quit smoking right away.
Feeling stressed, so common in the modern world, contributes to shallow breathing and worsens the feeling of being winded and tense. Conscious breathwork is literally key to your salvation. It will transform your life, and can certainly make a huge difference in labor too!
If You Experience Shortness of Breath In Pregnancy
There are a number of methods shown to reduce shortness of breath in pregnancy. Try some of the ideas below and find what feels right to you.
Periodically check in on your breathing. If you’re breathing fast, slow it down. If it’s shallow (just from the chest or not a full breath), try to take deeper, fuller breaths down into your belly. Regularly make yourself yawn several times.
Practice one of the following breathing exercises for a few minutes a few times daily. Ideal moments are before going to bed at night, before rising in the morning, and throughout the day. Draw on this exercise whenever you experience:
Anger or triggering
Depression or sadness
A break in activity (for example traveling, bathing or waiting in line - let these be opportunities to practice and perfect your skills)
Three-tiered Breathing. Deep abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing is the optimal form of breathing and an effective natural tranquilizer, especially if you do it often. To train yourself in this way of breathing, get comfortable in a reclined position or sit up straight. Then, place your hands on your belly and concentrate on breathing into them. While doing this, bring your attention slowly into your body from head to toe, observing and releasing any muscle tension. Be mindful of what you are currently seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, tasting, and all the sensations of breathing. Just watch without judgment or attachment. This takes you into the present moment, and is wonderfully relaxing.
Exhale slowly through your mouth with an audible sigh.
Inhale deep into your belly for a count of 4 or 5. Imagine a pump expanding your abdomen and lower back which causes you to inhale, then allows your ribs to expand with air, then your upper chest to rise towards your collarbone and shoulders.
For a count of 4 to 5, slowly release your breath through your mouth in the same order as the inhale - from abdomen to ribs then upper chest. Let go and relax more each time you exhale.
Repeat this cycle for a total of 8 times or at least a few minutes.
Extended Exhale Breathing. Inhale deeply into your belly as above, for a count of 3 or 4, then double the exhale to a count of 6 or 8. While breathing in this way, focus on internal sensations, surrendering and relaxing deeper with each exhalation. Repeat for several cycles for at least a few minutes.
Just Breathe by Dan Brule is an excellent book about all types of breathwork to enhance your well-being. There are also helpful phone apps called Breathe and Calm. For more guidance and deeper transformation, schedule an online or in-person breathwork session with me.
MEDITATION AND MINDFULNESS
State-of-mind, high vibration thoughts and intentions (your deeply positive goals and truest, most lofty desires) and spiritual connection can all be significant factors in the quality of your breath, and the results you feel from conscious breathing.
We all need to be very careful about what we say to ourselves repeatedly, as thought is creative and can lead to manifesting our reality. What we say to ourselves - the good stuff and the not so good stuff - we can often make happen. Literally. Never underestimate the power of the spoken word and your inner self-talk.
If a thought supports, empowers and inspires - and leads to good or uplifting feelings - let it flow. If your internal dialogue leads you to feel more stressed, anxious, unhappy, upset, not good enough, victimized, limited, or increases suffering in any way, drop it like a hot potato.
Know you can avoid going down a slippery slope and that you have the power to turn off the spiraling record player of negativity. It takes great personal work to replace those lower vibration thoughts with higher ones that are actually more true and supportive, but regular practice will elevate your life immensely. You can turn those negative, often false thoughts, around to the opposite. Examples could be:
I am good enough at …. (instead of I am not good enough)
I have the strength to handle this (instead of I have no more strength to handle this)
I am a great mother (instead of I am a bad mother)
He/She should have done that or that should have happened (instead of they should not have done that or that should not have happened), because it did happen, they did do it, so it was actually meant to happen (without condoning harmful actions that were done by someone)
I am loved and cared about (instead of no one loves or cares about me)
That was just what I needed (instead of that ruined my day)
Another great practice is to state your desires as if they are already happening, by keeping them pure, direct, to the point, and in the present tense. Examples could be:
I am perfect as I am
My life is perfect as it is
I am blessed
I am Divine
I let go and let God
I am grateful
I am joy
I am love
I am calm
I’ve got this
Create your own mantra as your breathe, and really allow yourself to imagine all the details and sensations of how this new thought feels (what it looks, sounds, smells, tastes and really feels like). There are many wonderful books on this topic . A great start is Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements , Wayne Dyer’s Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life, or Byron Katie’s Loving What Is.
Take frequent short breaks throughout the day to reduce inner tension and increase feelings of centeredness and tranquility. Spend time outside in nature as much as you can. Practice meditation and progressive muscle relaxation, releasing all the muscles in your body from head to toe. This is especially helpful if you are nervous about your breathing.
Also consider doing some Yin, gentle, prenatal and or restorative yoga, or locate your nearest Zen Center. Read Marc Lesser’s Book, Accomplishing More by Doing Less, or any book by Thich Nhat Hanh to learn the basics of meditation and Zen practice. One of my favorites is Peace Is Every Step: The Path Of MIndfulness In Everyday LIfe.
The way you hold your body can make a significant difference in your ability to take a full breath.
Yoga and dance help with this tremendously. Periodically check your posture, especially during the second half of pregnancy. Make sure you are standing or sitting straight using your abdominal muscles, and that your shoulders are down, but not slumped forward.
Sleep with some extra pillows to keep your head or shoulders elevated, or lie down on your side. Wear loose, comfortable clothing so you aren’t restricting your movement or your body’s ability to expand with each inhale.
Be sure to take good care of yourself in general. Eat a diet that is healthy and well-balanced including a variety of whole foods and choosing organic whenever possible. Good options are:
Fresh fruits and vegetables
Beans and seeds
Nuts and nut butters
Wild Alaskan salmon
Turkey or chicken, beef, lamb, and wild game
Whole fresh raw dairy - goat and sheep is best
Healthy fats like cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil or free range grass-fed organic butter
Drink at least 64 ounces of filtered, spring or well water daily between meals, at least 20-30 minutes before or 2 hours after eating. Add berries, a few squeezes and slices of lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, or fresh mint leaves to taste.
Make sure you are getting enough sleep and rest periods for the added demands of pregnancy. Go to bed earlier, sleep later and/or take daily naps.
Cut back on unnecessary demands if you feel you are doing more than your body can handle.
Avoid self-medicating with alcohol, drugs or tobacco.
Consult an acupuncturist with expertise in shiatsu treatment.
Read my books, which cover additional breathing exercises for pregnancy and birth, and for healing and enhanced well-being.
Contact your physician or midwife if your breathlessness:
Occurs especially during rest
Interferes with your ability to carry out routine household chores
Is associated with other unusual symptoms like chest pain or palpitations, severe fatigue or weakness, fainting, or blood tinged sputum
Occurs with signs of an infection such as fever, coughing, or congestion.
Is in addition to history of asthma or other respiratory problems, heart disease, or smoking
For acute attacks, pause to rest, breath slowly and deeply, exhaling through pursed lips, and try standing with your hands stretched up towards the ceiling.
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