Incorrect breathing during pregnancy can damage your baby’s health. Learn to do it right

During pregnancy, stress-induced breathing, also known as apical breathing, can occur. In this case, women use their shoulders rather than their diaphragm to breathe. But is it harmful?
Apical breathing must be identified in pregnant women at the earliest. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Shazia Shadab Published: 13 Feb 2022, 13:00 pm IST
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An average human being can live without water for three days, without food for three weeks, but cannot live for more than three minutes without air. One of the most important things a pregnant woman can do is to make sure she is effectively breathing for two. Breathing is very important during pregnancy; it ensures the efficient removal of waste products as well as a plentiful supply of oxygen for both the mother and child. Effective breathing purifies and calms the nervous system and induces a feeling of pleasant well-being.

During pregnancy, due to stress, pregnant women tend to take shallow breaths that move the chest upwards. This form of breathing reiterates the fight or flight mechanism in pregnant women and they end up mostly chest breathing, and further shortening how much the diaphragm can move downwards and outwards.

Apical breaths is using their shoulders rather than their diaphragm to move air in and out of their lungs. This style of breathing disrupts the balance of gases in the body. Shallow over-breathing, or hyperventilation, can prolong feelings of anxiety by making the physical symptoms of stress worse. Controlled breathing can help to improve some of these symptoms.

tips for pregnant woman
Apical breathing can help women enjoy motherhood. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

Normal breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, involves synchronized motion of the upper rib cage, lower rib cage, and abdomen. Additionally, normal breathing requires adequate use and functionality of the diaphragm muscles.

What are the causes of rib pain during pregnancy?

Apical breathing due to stress can cause pain and aches all over the body. Pregnant women suffer from anxiety and tension that can make them prone to rib pain leading to chest tightness and rib misalignment.

Other factors include position of the baby, posture-thoracic spine pain, increased breast size and wrong bra. Moreover, the hormone relaxin and progesterone, which are essential for uterine contractions, can soften the rib muscles and ligaments, making them prone to soreness.

The pregnancy-induced reduction of functional residual capacity is accompanied not only by abdominal enlargement, but also by ribcage dimension increase.

What are some of the interventions needed?

The first step to decreasing rib pain during pregnancy is physiotherapy by following these measures:

Watch what you eat when you’re expecting. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Diaphragmatic breathing

One great way to get the ribs moving regularly is through proper diaphragmatic breathing. Inhale and allow the diaphragm to gently descend and move outwards — this should gently push the lower ribs outward and downward along with the abdominals, back and pelvic floor.

Soft tissue release

As the baby grows and the abdominal and back muscles move in order to adapt for the baby, it’s not uncommon for these muscles and ligaments to get tight or lose the ability to full move and relax. Massage therapy and soft tissue release are all great ways to increase the movement that should be happening when we breathe and move.

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Movement and posture modification

Standing and sitting with appropriate posture (neutral spine with a small, natural curve in the low back with the diaphragm and pelvic floor stacked above each other) is a great way to keep the diaphragm moving optimally and also help stabilize the low back and core. A good posture might help in relieving shortness of breath. While sitting, keep the chest lifted and the shoulder placed back. This gives enough room for the lungs to expand.

Wear loose clothing with corrected bra fittings.

Try warm compresses or ice packs on the sore area.

Use extra pillows or body pillows to help you get comfortable in bed
Sleeping with pillows supporting the upper back, which can allow gravity to pull the uterus down and give the lungs more space. Tilting slightly to the left in this position can also help keep the uterus off the aorta, the major artery that moves oxygenated blood through the body.

apical breathing
Yoga will help you breathe better and strengthen your body. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Physiotherapy management

  • Stretches
  • Rib lifting
  • Correction and tapping
  • Postural alignment
  • Dry needling – would help you relief pain and discomfort.


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About the Author

Shazia Shadab is the HOD of physiotherapy Department at Cloudnine Group of Hospitals. She is a physiotherapist with an experience for 10 years. She received her Bachelor degree of physiotherapy from Rajiv Gandhi University. She is an expert in pregnancy-related musculoskeletal issues where she treats advanced therapies (antenatal or postnatal), problem associated with pregnancy and/or childbirth, gynaecological problem and post-partum problem. ...Read More

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